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Republican Women And Abortion


A majority of Americans support keeping Roe v. Wade in place. That's the finding of a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll on abortion. And most favor allowing abortion in at least some situations. But there is one group that stands out for opposing abortion - Republican women. NPR's national correspondent Sarah McCammon joins us. Sarah, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: We certainly have had a lot of demonstration about the heavy partisanship on the abortion issue. Tell us about how gender comes into this discussion.

MCCAMMON: Well, it's not in the way that a lot of people might think. There's often a lot of rhetoric about a so-called Republican war on women in the context of abortion debates, or we hear the idea that efforts to restrict abortion rights are about men trying to control women's bodies. But when it comes to public opinion, many polls bear out the idea that men and women actually have very similar views on abortion. In our poll, 60% of women and 54% of men describe themselves as pro-choice. And I talked to Barbara Carvalho, the director of the Marist Poll. She says that's a pretty insignificant difference.

BARBARA CARVALHO: The issue really isn't between genders. The issue is really within political party identification and gender, which means, you know, Democrat and Republican women are very different on this issue.

MCCAMMON: So no surprise - right? - that a majority of Democratic women would identify as pro-choice, and most Republican women identify as pro-life. But what's interesting, Scott, is that Republican women express more opposition to abortion than Republican men - 68% of Republican women call themselves pro-life compared to 59% of their male counterparts. Also, Republican women were the only group in this poll to oppose exceptions for abortion in cases of rape and incest. A majority opposed that, while most Republican men do support those exceptions.

SIMON: Sarah, what do you think accounts for the difference between Republican men and women on this issue?

MCCAMMON: I would love to know more about that. There's not enough data here to know exactly why, and the poll didn't ask why. But pollsters say there are a few factors that could be in play. Some of it could actually have to do with how Republican women view pregnancy and life. Republican women overwhelmingly said in this poll that life begins at conception. That's compared to less than half of Republican men who said so. It's not clear why there's that difference, but it likely shapes their views on the matter. I spoke to Karla Cox. She's a 52-year-old Republican from Minnesota who responded to our survey. She does favor exceptions for rape, incest or to save a woman's life, but she describes herself as pro-life overall.

KARLA COX: There are things that should be a woman's choice, but I don't believe that it is the right - because the child doesn't have a choice then - the unborn child. I gave up a child for adoption, instead of abortion, when I was younger - a teenager. So you know, I've been - maybe that's why my choice is that way because I've been through the situation before.

MCCAMMON: And Cox says she's Catholic. And while she doesn't like to bring that into conversations about politics too much, like a lot of Republican women who oppose abortion rights, Cox says her faith does play a role in how she thinks about the issue.

SIMON: And, Sarah, what do you think these results in the survey tell us about how voters of all kinds might think about the issue in the 2020 campaign ahead?

MCCAMMON: It's definitely an issue that voters care about. Twelve percent said it was their top issue, which is only a little less than the number who listed things like immigration or their own personal financial well-being as their top concern. More respondents, by the way, said they think that Democrats would do a better job on the abortion issue than Republicans. That said, Republicans, especially Republican women, tend to be more motivated by the abortion issue in their voting than Democrats - more likely to say it's their top issue. And so I would expect to hear a lot more about it in the year-plus to come.

SIMON: NPR's national correspondent Sarah McCammon, thanks so much for being with us.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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