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How The Public Views Ohio’s Abortion Bill

Ohio’s Republican-led legislature passed a law on Tuesday making abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat can be detected (typically at about six weeks’ gestation). The bill is awaiting a signature from Republican Gov. John Kasich and has divided anti-abortion activists — some support it, but others fear the bill would not withstand a court challenge. At six weeks, the fetus cannot live outside the womb, and many women don’t even know they’re pregnant by then.

Still, limited polling suggests the bill does have support. Back in 2012 and 2013 (when similar legislation was being discussed), polls from the Columbus Dispatch and Quinnipiac University found Ohioans divided about evenly, with 46 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed, on average. The polls also showed that support for making abortions illegal once a heartbeat can be detected did not break down strictly along partisan lines. About a third of Democrats were in favor of it, while a third of Republicans were opposed. Independents split right down the middle.

The polls in Ohio largely reflect the nation’s continued division over abortion policy more generally. Most Americans say abortion should be “always legal” or “mostly legal,” and there really hasn’t been a shift in public opinion on abortion in the last two decades. According to a 2016 poll from the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of Americans want abortion to be always or mostly legal. That’s the same as the 59 percent that wanted it to be always or mostly legal in a 1995 ABC News/Washington Post poll. When asked whether they are “pro-choice” or “pro-life,” Americans are split at 47 percent pro-choice and 46 percent pro-life, according to Gallup’s most recent poll. That’s about the same as it was 15 years ago.

Indeed, abortion is the odd social issue on which opinion hasn’t become more liberal during the past decade. More Americans than ever favor legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage, for instance. The lack of movement on abortion means that anti-abortion efforts like the one in Ohio will probably continue, as the battle lines on the issue are well-established.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.