Abortion Has Had Broad Bipartisan Support for Decades—How Did It Become So Politicized?

Abortion has had broad bipartisan support in America for decades. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from weaponizing the issue to try to divide voters and win elections.

Read on to find out how—and why—they did it.


Across the Political Spectrum

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, sweeping away a 50-year-old precedent protecting abortion at the federal level, pretty much all we’ve heard from the media and many elected officials is that abortion is a deeply polarizing, deeply partisan issue. To be honest, abortion has been described in those terms for years.

You might be surprised to find out that hasn’t always been the case.

Back in 1972, a year before Roe v. Wade established abortion as a federally protected right, a Gallup poll showed that 68% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats agreed that “the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician.”

Broad Support Continues to this Day

Fifty years later, a majority of Americans still support abortion rights.

  • 85% of Americans think abortion should be legal
  • 74% of Americans, including 57% of Republicans, oppose extremist anti-abortion laws, like the one passed in Texas in 2021 that turns individuals into informants and gives them the ability to sue abortion providers

A majority of Americans also think that overturning Roe was a mistake, with almost 60% believing that the decision was more about politics than the law.

Correcting History

Despite everything we’ve been told about how abortion has always been politically polarizing, the truth is that polls didn’t consistently show that more Democrats than Republicans supported abortion rights until after 1988.

Republican and democratic views

Weaponizing Abortion for Political Gain

What led to that gradual decline in support for abortion in the Republican Party?

It started when President Nixon and Republican strategists began forging political alliances with white evangelical Christian groups in the early 1970s. But those groups didn’t much care about abortion as an issue then. In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention, a very conservative Christian denomination, actually passed resolutions throughout the ’70s supporting the idea that women should have access to abortion.

So what happened?

White Supremacy and Abortion Rights

While white evangelical groups weren’t necessarily against abortion at that time, they were staunchly against desegregation. They were angry that a change in the law meant that they’d lose their tax-exempt status if they maintained segregated schools—and they very much wanted to maintain segregated schools.

Nixon and his strategists took advantage of this. They figured that running on a “pro-family” platform would appeal to conservative Christians and bring them into the Republican party—and that it’d be more palatable and effective politically than saying that they were in favor of segregation.

They were right.

Widening the Political Divide

Cajoled by political leaders, conservative Christians joined the Republican Party and took up the anti-abortion banner, driving down support for abortion in the party.

Meanwhile, Black and Brown women were leading the push for reproductive justice in the 1990s. While Roe made abortion legal and accessible for well-to-do white women, that was not the case for women of color. The reproductive justice movement focused on securing access, affordability, bodily autonomy, and community health and safety for Black and Brown women and still is an essential part of the movement today.

These activists, along with others fighting for reproductive rights and access, pulled the Democratic Party to the left, driving up support for abortion rights, right around the time that Republicans were heading in the other direction.

How to Move Forward in a Post-Roe World

Through all these twists and turns, one thing hasn’t changed: A majority of Americans support abortion. Despite that, the Supreme Court overturned Roe last year. Many states have outlawed abortion entirely, or are planning to. There’s an effort underway to make abortion pills illegal, even in states where abortion rights are protected. In fact, Wyoming recently just became the first state to outlaw the pills.

We have to stand together. We have to protect ourselves and each other.

Take Action Now

With a State Supreme Court seat up for grabs in Wisconsin’s upcoming general election, it’s a rare opportunity for the state to reverse course on a lot of important issues—including abortion.

If you live in Wisconsin, vote Tuesday, April 4 for a Supreme Court justice who supports access to safe, legal abortion services.

Not in Wisconsin? Join a phone bank and encourage Wisconsin voters to vote!