Fact check: Sheila Jackson Lee's claim about Roe v. Wade


On July 10 2018, Democratic U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee‏, who represents Texas’ 18th congressional district, tweeted:

Claim 1: “Seventy percent of Americans support #RoeVWade” [meaning they favor legal abortion in the United States].

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Sheila Jackson Lee on Twitter

Seventy percent of Americans support #RoeVWade. Americans don’t want President Trump and Brett Kavanaugh’s extreme, anti-choice agenda. We need to #StopKavanaugh! #WhatsAtStake

Fact check: Mostly True. Rep. Jackson Lee is likely referring to a Pew Research poll from December 2016, that found that 69 percent of Americans do not want to see Roe vs. Wade overturned.

Pew asked in December 2016: Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe vs. Wade decision, or not?

Yes, overturn: 28 percent

No, do not overturn: 69 percent

A more recent Gallup survey conducted between July 2 to 8 2018 garnered a slightly different response. The poll offered “No opinion” as an option. It found that 64 percent of Americans did not want to see the Supreme Court overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Twenty-eight percent supported overturning the ruling, the same as the 2016 Pew poll.

Gallup asked in July 2018: Would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn its 1973 Roe versus Wade decision concerning abortion, or not?

Yes, overturn: 28 percent

No, do not overturn: 64 percent

No opinion: 9 percent

Gallup commented that the response “is on the higher end measured” compared to previous polls since 1989 that offered the same question.

Rep. Jackson Lee did not respond to an email from WikiTribune over which poll she was referencing.

Background:

The Texas law in question in Roe v. Wade made it a crime to “procure” an abortion or to “attempt one,” unless done so with advice of a physician “for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.” So a mother could not ask a doctor for an abortion and a doctor could not attempt to perform one without committing a crime. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 117-18 (1973). Many states had similar statutes at that time.

Roe ruled that a state could not regulate abortion – i.e., in this case criminalize procuring or attempting one — during the first trimester of pregnancy. But during the second trimester “in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, [the State] may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.” Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 at 164. After viability, which the court said occurred approximately after the second trimester, “the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.” Roe at 164-65.

The supreme court did not really make abortion legal carte blanche as part of the right to privacy. More particularly, the court concluded “the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.” Roe at 154.

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Other opinion polls

  • Previous polls found less support for abortion. According to another Gallup survey conducted earlier in 2018, 50 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances, while 29 percent support legal abortion under all circumstances, and 18 percent believe it should be illegal in all circumstances. The same poll found that 48 percent of Americans consider themselves as pro-choice, by contrast, 48 percent self-identify as being pro-life.
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