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A majority of Iowans — 60% — say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, at a time when the state’s Republican lawmakers have new freedom to restrict the procedure.
That finding is from a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, which also shows that just over a third of Iowans, 34%, say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Six percent aren’t sure.
The 60% support for legal abortion is a new high-water mark in the Iowa Poll. In 2008, 48% of Iowans thought abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Last September, that number was 57%.
The new poll, conducted July 10-13 by Selzer & Co., comes weeks after a pair of court decisions removed some constitutional protections for abortion in Iowa. In June, both the Iowa and the U.S. supreme courts reversed previous decisions that established constitutional rights for abortion.
Abortion is still legal in Iowa, although a new 24-hour waiting period went into effect earlier this month.
The poll measured the opinions of 811 Iowans. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Questions asked of 597 likely voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points.
Republican leaders want tighter restrictions on abortion; most Iowans are wary
The poll shows an apparent disconnect between Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, and other anti-abortion political leaders and majorities of Iowans, who oppose two major efforts to restrict abortion. However, either a majority or plurality of Republicans, the governor’s base, support those two efforts: reinstating the so-called fetal heartbeat law, and amending the Iowa Constitution to say it does not recognize a right to an abortion.
Both ideas face opposition from most Iowans.
Reynolds signed the fetal heartbeat bill into law in 2018, but courts blocked it from taking effect. The law is intended to prohibit abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, when an embryo’s heart begins to develop and emit electrical impulses. Since the law passed, some medical professionals have questioned whether the electrical impulses from that early structure qualify as a “heartbeat.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision, which found that the federal constitution doesn’t recognize a right to an abortion, Reynolds said she would ask a state court to lift the injunction on the law and allow it to take effect.
A majority of Iowans, 54%, oppose reinstating the law; 38% favor it; and 8% are unsure.
Jordyn Peterson, a political independent and a 29-year-old grocery store employee in Fort Dodge, said the law was “ridiculous.” She received an abortion late last year, she said, after deciding she would be financially unable to support a child.
“I believe that, regardless of circumstance, a woman should have rights to her own body, and we should be treated like human beings, rather than a commodity,” she said.
Sixty-seven percent of Republicans say they support the six-week ban. William Price, a Republican and a 59-year-old construction supervisor in Des Moines, believes a heartbeat should be the determining factor. Once the fetus’ heart starts beating, he said, abortion is “no different than a mother killing her 6-year-old.”
“Right after conception, if that’s your choice and you don’t want to proceed forward and have a baby, it’s your right to terminate it,” Price said. “Once it becomes a heartbeat, that takes it to another page.”
While Reynolds takes the fetal heartbeat law to court, Republican leaders in the Iowa Legislature aim to amend the state constitution to say that it does not recognize or protect the right to an abortion. The amendment would not immediately ban abortions, but it would remove all constitutional protections for the procedure, potentially allowing more restrictive laws to overcome legal challenges.
Lawmakers first passed the amendment in 2021. By law, the Legislature will need to approve the amendment again in 2023 or 2024. Then, Iowa voters will make the final decision at the ballot box about whether to amend the constitution.
Thirty-one percent of Iowans support the proposed constitutional amendment, the poll found. A majority, 56%, oppose it, and 13% aren’t sure.
Even among Republicans, fewer than half support the constitutional amendment. Forty-six percent of Republicans favor the amendment, 40% oppose it and 13% aren’t sure.
Price said he does not support the amendment. Although he favors a fetal heartbeat law, he’s concerned that if the constitution is amended, Republican leaders in the state will go too far and ban all abortion outright.
Sandra Martin, a 76-year-old retired English teacher from Columbus Junction, is an independent who opposes abortion. She favors the amendment, but said she would be “really torn” about voting for it. Martin worries the “black-and-whiteness” of the amendment would restrict abortions even for people with major health concerns.
“I would like to see a law that says it is basically illegal unless it’s necessary for health reasons, or whatever the doctor sees as necessary,” Martin said.
Quarter of abortion-rights supporters say they support Republican candidates
Abortion is expected to be a major issue in November’s election. Democratic leaders have rallied around the issue: In the hours after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, President Joe Biden urged voters to elect candidates who support abortion.
“This fall, Roe is on the ballot,” he said.
The Iowa Poll found that abortion is among the top electoral issues for Iowans. Fifty-four percent of poll respondents rank abortion as a critical issue. Abortion is a critical issue for 70% of Democrats and 55% of independents, but only 45% of Republicans.
However, poll results suggest that may not translate directly into a turnout win for Democrats.
Iowans who oppose abortion are somewhat more likely to say they plan to vote in the midterms. Among Iowans who believe abortion should be illegal, 75% say they will definitely vote in November. Seventy percent of those who support legal abortion say they will definitely vote — but that group of abortion supporters is larger overall.
The poll also finds that many Iowans who support legal abortion support anti-abortion candidates. Edward Ramsey, an independent and a self-employed 58-year-old who lives in Villisca, said he was “boiling” about recent abortion news.
“As far as I’m concerned, the government needs to stay clear the hell out of it and leave it up to the lady,” he said. “Whoever it is, wherever it is, whatever the situation is, she knows whether she should have that child or not”
Regardless, Ramsey plans to support Reynolds in November’s election. He compared voting to a romantic relationship. He likes Reynolds, even if they don’t agree on abortion.
“There’s a lot of things that you and your husband or your boyfriend or your man doesn’t agree on, but you still like each other,” he said. “That’s where I’m at.”
In the governor’s race, 49% of voters who support abortion rights say they will vote for Democrat Deidre DeJear. DeJear has pledged to “defend reproductive health care rights in Iowa.”
However, 24% of likely voters who favor legal abortion say they support Reynolds, who has promised to protect “every unborn Iowan.”
Price said he agrees with a “majority” of Reynolds’ positions and plans to vote for her in the fall, despite concerns she might press to ban the procedure outright — something he disagrees with. Price said abortion wasn’t a deciding issue for him.
“I don’t view it as a staunch, critical issue that’s gonna sway me one way or another way,” Price said of abortion.
Other political match-ups show a similar pattern, with about a quarter of likely voters who support legal abortion saying they support Republican candidates.
In the U.S. Senate race, 60% of likely voters who support abortion rights say they support retired U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Franken, the Democratic candidate. Twenty-five percent support incumbent U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a steadfast abortion opponent. When poll respondents were asked if they support a Republican or a Democrat for the U.S. House races, 28% of abortion-rights supporters say they prefer a Republican.
Democrats don’t have the same sway among likely voters who say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. In the governor’s race, 86% of anti-abortion voters support Reynolds, while just 6% favor DeJear. It’s a similar margin for the House races, as 86% of anti-abortion voters plan to vote Republican and 10% plan to vote for a Democrat.
Martin, the retired English teacher, will vote for Democrats in the fall — even though she believes abortion “is murder.” She’s a political independent who said she aligns with the Democratic Party on other issues.
“If there’s one place I split, it’s abortion,” she said.
About this poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted July 10-13, 2022, for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 811 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cellphone numbers supplied by Dynata. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age, sex and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent American Community Survey estimates.
Questions based on the sample of 811 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Questions based on the subsample of 597 likely voters in the 2022 general election have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 3.4 percentage points or 4.0 percentage points, respectively. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.
Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to the Register and Mediacom is prohibited.
Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or at 410-340-3440. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.