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Poll: Two-thirds oppose banning medication abortion

FILE - Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on March 16, 2022.
Allen G. Breed
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AP
FILE - Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on March 16, 2022.

Strong majorities of Americans oppose laws banning medication abortion, disagree with judges overturning Food and Drug Administration approval of prescription drugs, don't have much confidence in the Supreme Court and don't think justices should serve lifetime appointments, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Monday.

The findings come as the Supreme Court left in place — for now — access to the drug mifepristone, which is used in early-stage abortions. That's unlikely to be the final word on the drug, as challenges relating to it are expected to again come before the high court, possibly as early as some time next year — right in the middle of a presidential election.

The Friday decision also comes nearly a year after the Supreme Court overturned the guaranteed right to an abortion in this country with its Dobbs ruling — and sent an earthquake through U.S. politics.

A lower court decision to nullify FDA approval of mifepristone is woefully out of step with public opinion, according to the NPR poll. By a 64%-to-35% margin, respondents in the survey of 1,291 adults said they oppose laws banning access to medication abortion. The poll was conducted April 17 to 19, before the Supreme Court's decision, and has a +/- 3.4 percentage point margin of error.

A majority (55%) of Republicans also oppose those types of laws, complicating GOP politics, which has struggled to figure out how to message around abortion — in a unified way — since the Dobbs ruling.

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The original Texas ruling, and legislative efforts like it in red states, have split Republican elected officials. Republicans on Capitol Hill were largely silent about the decision, except for a few ardent opponents of abortion rights and others who thought it went too far.

"We are getting it wrong on this issue," South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace said on CNN earlier this month. "We've got to show some compassion to women, especially women who've been raped. We've got to show compassion on the abortion issue because, by and large, the — most of Americans aren't with us on this issue."

Mace faced protests in South Carolina over her comments.

Judges and FDA approval

When it comes specifically to whether people think judges should be able to overturn FDA approvals, 6 in 10 said they should not (36% said yes, 61% said no).

Republicans, however, were split, with 51% saying they should be able to, but a significant percentage, 45%, said they should not.

Little to no confidence in the Supreme Court

Six in 10 respondents said they have not very much or no confidence in the Supreme Court, continuing a trend of declining trust in the once-vaunted institution.

Just 37% said they have a great deal or good amount of confidence in the court, while 62% said the opposite. It's the lowest level of confidence in the poll in the five years Marist has been asking the question.

There is a clear divide by party, however. A majority of Republicans (53%) do have confidence in the court, but only 39% of independents and 24% of Democrats do.

Notably, there's a significant divide between Republican men and women on this question — 61% of Republican men say they mostly have confidence in the court, but just 44% of Republican women do; 54% say they do not.

That makes sense, considering the conservative victories at the court in recent years. Former President Donald Trump was able to reshape the court by appointing three justices — after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blocked former President Barack Obama from replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

As a result, this has been the most conservative court in decades, and it has delivered conservative decision after conservative decision — from guns and voting rights to LGBTQ rights and abortion.

Wanting major change for justices' tenure

Supreme Court justices have lifetime appointments.

But two-thirds say they should serve for a limited time — not for lifetime appointments.

Just 30% say justices should continue to be allowed to serve as long as they want, while 68% say they should serve for only a limited time.

Even 57% of Republicans and 54% of Trump backers say so.

But that's mostly because of the opposition from Republican women. A slim majority (53%) of GOP men support the lifetime appointments, but only 28% of GOP women do.

The divide between Republican men and women, however, shouldn't be interpreted as GOP women being more supportive of abortion rights. Republican women were less opposed to a law banning medication abortion, for example, than Republican men.

Fifty-nine percent of Republican men were opposed, while Republican women were split — 51% were opposed, 49% supported those types of laws.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.