How many Republicans are Pro-Choice

The American culture war over abortion - a chronology

Hardly any other topic divides American society as much as the question of whether pregnant women are allowed to have abortions. That was not always so.

When America was founded, abortion legislation was more liberal than it is today in many constituent states; Abortions were allowed up to the first child movements, i.e. around the 18th week. In the past sixty years in particular, the positions of opponents and supporters have radicalized, writes law professor and historian Mary Ziegler, who is currently working on her third book on the history of abortion laws in America. *

18./19. Century:

Individual states begin to prohibit abortion by law.


Connecticut criminalizes abortion with the aim of protecting the mother's life. Until then, women were often given toxic substances in an attempt to terminate pregnancies. Within 20 years, 10 of the then 26 member states issued bans.


The American Medical Association, founded a few years earlier, began a campaign to punish abortion in all cases unless the mother's life is in danger. The association argues with moral and medical reasons and is successful: in 1880 abortions are generally prohibited in all member states with a few exceptions. Abortions are still practiced underground.

Mid 20th century:

Thanks to advances in medicine, abortions are becoming easier and safer. More and more voices are calling for abortions to be legalized and brought out of the shadows in order to protect women's health.


A group of pastors and rabbis founds the church's advice service for abortion. The emerging feminist movement, especially the National Organization for Women, is protesting and lobbying for liberalization. Republican Governor Ronald Reagan signs law that allows abortion in California under certain circumstances. Several states join this.

1972 (I):

In a poll by the Gallup Institute, more Republicans (68 percent) than Democrats (59 percent) believe that abortions are the sole choice of a woman and her doctor. The Republican Party is the “pro choice” party - that will soon change.

The abortion issue is increasingly dividing the parties

Percentage of those who say abortion should be allowed in all circumstances

1972 (II):

In judgment Eisenstadt v. Baird The Supreme Court invalidates a Massachusetts law that allows only married couples to use contraceptives. Protests break out, mostly led by the religious right. They argue with the right to life guaranteed in the constitution («pro life»).


The Supreme Court decides in principle judgment Roe v. Calf, that abortions are a private matter, that there is a constitutional right to abortion and that the protection of life only begins with birth.


In a win for anti-abortionists, Congress passes the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits paying for abortions with state funds (Medicaid); Exceptions are rape, incest and the protection of the mother's life. In the years that followed, national protests increased and the political parties took clear positions: the Republicans, driven by the religious right and their President Ronald Reagan, are now “pro life”, the Democrats “pro choice”.


Contrary to all expectations, the Supreme Court does not abolish the right to abortion, but relativizes it in the judgment Planned Parenthood v. Casey: The member states are now allowed to regulate abortions themselves, as long as they do not expose pregnant women to an "undue burden", i.e. excessive circumstances. The vague term opens the doors to state laws that make access to abortion much more difficult.

The number of legal abortions has fallen sharply since 1990

Legal Abortions in the US (Millions)

1990s and 2000s:

Opponents of abortion are radicalizing and using violence against patients and doctors. Several abortion doctors are shot dead, including George Tiller in 2009. Republican majorities in the state parliaments pass laws that make abortion clinics difficult to operate, especially in Texas.


Encouraged by a conservative majority in the Supreme Court, nine member states pass strict regulations that prohibit abortion completely or very early in pregnancy, sometimes with no exceptions for rape or incest. With this deliberate violation of the “undue burden” clause, they hope to call the Supreme Court onto the scene so that it can repeal the abortion right guaranteed in “Roe”. Conversely, progressive states are loosening their laws: in New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, Illinois and Maine, abortions are now possible even later in pregnancy and can also be performed by nurses and midwives.

* Mary Ziegler: Abortion in America: A Legal History from Roe to the Present. Cambridge University Press, Spring 2020.