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Americans Hold Complex Views On Abortion, Poll Finds


Former Vice President Joe Biden has changed one of his long-held positions. He now says he opposes the Hyde Amendment. It forbids the use of federal funds for most abortions. Biden's shift illustrates how contentious abortion rights remain, and a lot of Americans feel forgotten in this fight - that their views can't be heard above the shouting. NPR's Carrie Feibel talked to some of them.

CARRIE FEIBEL, BYLINE: A new NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll shows there is common ground on abortion. Three quarters of Americans want the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade and keep abortion legal. But a strong majority is also OK with abortion having some restrictions. Jayne Mann in Florida puts her view this way.

JAYNE MANN: I believe in abortion when it would save the mother's life or involves incest or rape. Then I think it should be the woman's choice.

FEIBEL: Those limits are pretty close to what Republicans have passed in states like Georgia and Ohio recently, though courts have stopped those laws for now. Mann is 66. She says she didn't think a lot about abortion until a few years ago.

MANN: When Planned Parenthood became big in the picture and women began to speak out, to hold rallies and protests, some going so far as to glorify their own abortion - how fabulous it was and so forth - and I find that offensive.

FEIBEL: That reaction's not uncommon, according to pollsters. Americans tend to react to extreme rhetoric on either side often by going in the other direction. Right now, with more states restricting abortion, more Americans identify as pro-choice, 57%, compared to 35% who call themselves pro-life. Sarah Martineau calls herself pro-choice. She's a student in Las Vegas.

SARAH MARTINEAU: I believe it's the woman's right. I have no right to speak for anyone else or their body.

FEIBEL: And yet, Martineau doesn't want to be seen as an extremist.

MARTINEAU: So I don't feel the need to rampage or scream my views.

FEIBEL: Emily MacGill, a mother of four in Utah, proudly calls herself pro-life. She's part of the 13% in the poll who want the Supreme Court to completely overturn Roe v. Wade.

EMILY MACGILL: I'm a Christian. And I believe that, as the Bible says, that each person is made in the image of God.

FEIBEL: And yet she calls the rhetoric, even on her side, very bothersome.

MACGILL: The passion is good, but too - they misplace their passion and lash out, perhaps, at a woman who is going to a Planned Parenthood clinic, when they should treat her with respect and compassion.

FEIBEL: The poll asked people which political party would do a better job dealing with the issue of abortion. Forty-seven percent went with the Democrats, 34% with the Republicans. Jonathan Margulies of Brooklyn says he just wants political parties out of it.

JONATHAN MARGULIES: I think it's at least a little bit unfortunate that this is being legislated and litigated by political leaders rather than letting it remain an issue that is decided in the medical community, where I think it belongs.

FEIBEL: Margulies actually says doctors and bioethicists could do more to explain the complexities of abortion and inject some nuance into the debate.

MARGULIES: The fact that we tend to lump this issue in with others for political expediency is a very frustrating concern for many of us.

FEIBEL: As for his position, it's complicated. If forced to pick a label, then pro-choice. But, like two-thirds of people in our poll, Margulies is unhappy with how abortion is handled. And in that, at least, there is unity. On all the sides, people are equally dissatisfied. Carrie Feibel, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Feibel is a senior editor on NPR's Science Desk, focusing on health care. She runs the NPR side of a joint reporting partnership with Kaiser Health News, which includes 30 journalists based at public radio stations across the country.