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What to know about abortion and the 2024 election

Anti-abortion and abortion rights activists protest during the 50th annual March for Life rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 20, 2023 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Anti-abortion and abortion rights activists protest during the 50th annual March for Life rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 20, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps no issue is thornier for the 2024 Republican presidential primary candidates than abortion.

Republican leaders widely cheered the 2022 Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. But since then, they have found that going too far on abortion restrictions can be a political liability.

The Dobbs decision and subsequent state-level laws restricting abortion access galvanized voters who support abortion rights. Every state ballot measure on abortion rights since Dobbs has come out in favor of abortion rights, even in red states like Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio. On top of that, the GOP's opposition to abortion rights has been blamed for Republican underperformance in the 2022 midterms, and last week's state elections in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio.

As a result, Republican presidential candidates are attempting a balancing act: how to appeal to a party base that, to varying degrees, opposes abortion rights, without alienating moderates, independents and general election voters who favor fewer restrictions. The result has been many broad statements about "protecting life," without a whole lot of specifics about exactly what restrictions candidates favor.

For example, former President Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate, has dodged the question of whether he supports a federal abortion ban, not to mention what kind of gestational limits he would back.

Meanwhile, Democrats see protecting abortion rights not only as a moral imperative but as a way to drive voters to the polls in 2024. Abortion rights advocates are working to put measures protecting access to the procedure onto ballots in 2024 in several swing states, in the hopes of energizing voters.

President Biden has never been a passionate crusader for abortion rights. But since Dobbs, he has been more willing to campaign on the issue. And as we've said, it's been a winning issue for Democrats. The question is how much it continues to drive voters in 2024, and to what degree other issues – like concerns about the economy, candidate age, or foreign conflicts – take over the conversation.

This piece originally appeared in the NPR Politics newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here for early access and for more coverage of the biggest issues at play in 2024.

Where the GOP candidates stand

Alyson Hurt / NPR

One of the biggest questions facing GOP presidential candidates is whether they would back a federal abortion ban. They have also given a wide range of answers on what, if any, gestational limits they support. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben has this rundown of their stances.

By the numbers

61% of Americans say they mostly support abortion rights, compared to 37% who say they mostly oppose, according to an April NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

While support for abortion rights is much higher among Democratic voters:

  • 72% of Republicans support allowing abortion at any time in pregnancy to save the life of the pregnant person
  • 55% of Republicans percent support exceptions for rape and incest at any time in pregnancy
  • And only 42% of Republicans support a six-week ban, like the ones that have been proposed and passed in many GOP-held states since Dobbs

Essential reading

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
Lexie Schapitl
Lexie Schapitl is an assistant producer with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces, the NPR Politics Podcast, and digital content. She also reports from the field and helps run the NPR Politics social media channels.