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Abstract

The U.S. Supreme Court stated that Roe v. Wade was the Court’s attempt to end the national abortion controversy. In 2019, both pro-choice and pro-life state legislators are passing laws that further undermine Roe as a compromise, moving the debate toward an inflection point. This thesis reports results from surveys on Americans’ abortion attitudes, which suggest that this persistent conflict is complicated by confusion and error surrounding Americans’ perceptions of fetuses and both sides’ positions on abortion. While many pro-choice Americans believe that a fetus is not a biological human before it is capable of living outside of the pregnant person, a survey of biologists suggests that the predominant biological view is that fetuses are biological humans throughout pregnancy. While many pro-life Americans believe that pro-choice Americans do not support any abortion restrictions, a survey of pro-choice Americans suggests that most support abortion restrictions after the first trimester because most believe fetuses deserve constitutional rights at some point during pregnancy. Americans might see the national abortion controversy as an insurmountable issue because they believe pro-choice and pro-life Americans are diametrically opposed in their stances on abortion, but polls suggest 88% of Americans support some abortion restrictions and 83% support legal abortion access in some circumstances. Since most Americans support both abortion restrictions and legal abortion access, the debate centers on when a pregnant person’s right to terminate a pregnancy outweighs the fetus’ right to life. While there is a genuine disagreement on the permissibility of elective abortion in the first trimester, this thesis argues that addressing areas of confusion and error and focusing on the views of most Americans could reduce the controversy and help Americans find common ground in the debate. A supplementary file that contains surveys and other relevant study materials is available for download.

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