Data Dive: How women and men feel about abortion issues

In five points, we look at how people across 29 countries feel about everything from if, and when, abortion should be legal to who, if anyone, should be punished when it’s illegal.

Ipsos | Data dive | Abortion
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  • Melissa Dunne Public Affairs
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How do women and men feel about abortion?
Like politics and religion, it’s a topic most steer clear of debating with friends and family at the dinner table.
For many, abortion can be such a hot potato as it’s framed as both a highly personal choice and a hotly debated political subject. 
It’s also, for obvious reasons, often portrayed as a “woman’s issue” only. Add on to that news photos of pro-choice rallies that can make it appear as if it’s only young women who support legal abortion and it’s only old men who oppose it.   
Our new polling via Global Advisor reveals there is indeed a bit of division between men and women on a range of abortion-related questions in general, but the biggest gaps appear between older women and younger men. 
While you’re pretty unlikely to ask anyone at your dinner table to dig deeper into their views about such a complicated choice, we asked for you. Below, here’s five infographics that highlight the fractures (and moments of unity) between men and women when it comes to one of the most divisive topics of our time.

  1. Sometimes, always, never
    A slightly higher proportion of women (59% on average across 29 countries) support legal abortion in all/most cases, compared to 52% of men.

    When we scratched further beneath the surface, more cracks emerge.

    Almost two in three (63%) Baby Boomer* women support abortion in all/most cases vs. slightly less than half (46%) of Generation Z men.

    “The common stereotype is older people are more conservative while those that are younger are more liberal on social issues. However, when it comes to abortion it is Gen Z men who are the least in favour of offering women the option to terminate a pregnancy,” says Jamie Stinson, Content Director, Ipsos Knowledge Centre.

    “Conversely, Baby Boomers are the most supportive of abortion, with both male and female Boomers much more in favour than younger cohorts. In Europe and North America, where support for abortion is highest, Boomers have seen abortion legalized in their lifetimes, which is perhaps why support is higher among older people.”Ipsos | Data dive | Abortion

  2. Exceptions to the rule
    Abortion clearly is not black or white; it’s filled with gray zones.

    Case in point: some countries like Great Britain have had legal abortion for decades now while the nearby Republic of Ireland only legalized abortion in the past few years. Meanwhile, Indonesia and Poland are among the countries that only allow legal abortion in certain circumstances, such as if a woman’s health is at risk. And there’s, of course, still many places where choosing to end a pregnancy remains relegated to back alleys under a cloak of secrecy.

    Even with the diversity of abortion laws around the world, the vast majority (on average across 29 countries) believe there are exceptional times when abortion should be permitted.

    Pretty similar proportions of women (80%) and men (76%) think abortion should be legal if the pregnancy threatens the woman's life or health.

    There’s a bit more division between women (76%) and men (69%) over whether abortion should be legal if the pregnancy is the result of a rape.

    And there’s the least, though still pretty strong, support among both women (68%) and men (62%) for allowing abortion if the baby is likely to be born with severe disabilities or health problems.Ipsos | Data dive | Abortion

  3. Limits to the exceptions.
    Many support legal abortion in specific circumstances, such as when a woman’s life is in danger, but only about a quarter of men (26%) and women (24%) support legal abortion after the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy.

    Support goes up as weeks go down.

    About two in five men (40%) and women (44%) support legal abortion for any woman in the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy. And almost two in three (63%) women support legal abortion for any woman in the first six weeks of pregnancy versus 56% of men who say the same.Ipsos | Data dive | Abortion

  4. Calm amid the (political) storm
    The stunning reversal of Roe v Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, dominated headlines for months, yet the decision ultimately didn’t change hearts and minds.

    Our 2022 polling was done on the heels of the court ruling (from June 24 – July 8, 2022) and found 52% of American men and 57% of American women supported legal abortion in all or most cases.

    Despite all the hot air expelled on both sides of the aisles about Roe v Wade, the proportion of American men (51%) and American women (56%) who support legal abortion essentially remains the same a year later (June 23 – July 7, 2023).  

    Poland is another country that’s recently rolled back legal abortion rights.

    As of early 2021, abortion is only legal in the Eastern European country in very specific cases. Just as in the U.S., the new restrictions have ignited a firestorm of controversy among Poles.

    Yet, like in America, the heated rhetoric didn’t lead to a dramatic which in support for legal abortion. Our polling finds 55% of Polish men and 65% of Polish women supported legal abortion in all/most cases in 2022 vs. 59% of Polish men and 68% of Polish women who said the same in 2023.Ipsos | Data dive | Abortion

  5. Crime and punishment
    Less than two in five of both men and women support punishing women who’ve had an abortion illegally.

    Almost half of men (49%) think the doctor who performed an illegal abortion should face a penalty vs. 42% of women. And similar proportions of men (47%) and women (42%) think someone else who arranged for the illegal abortion should be punished.

    Both men and women appear to be less forgiving of those who help/perform an illegal abortion.

    Just over one in three (37%) of men say a woman who had an illegal abortion should face a penalty vs. just 28% of women. This time, it’s Boomer women diverging the most from Millennial men.

    Only 22% of Boomer women (vs. 28% of Gen Z women, 29% of Gen X women and 33% of Millennial women) think a woman who had an illegal abortion should face a penalty.

    That’s in comparison to 41% of Millennial men (vs. 39% of Gen Z men, 38% of Gen X men and 30% of Boomer men) who say a woman who had an illegal abortion should be penalized.Ipsos | Data dive | Abortion

The author(s)
  • Melissa Dunne Public Affairs