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WASHINGTON (AP) – While Roe v. Wade faces his biggest threat in decades, a new poll finds Democrats increasingly view protecting abortion rights as a high priority for the government.

Thirteen percent of Democrats mentioned abortion or reproductive rights as one of the issues they want the federal government to address in 2022, according to a December poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. This represents less than 1% of Democrats who named it as a priority for 2021 and 3% who listed it in 2020.

Other issues like the economy, COVID-19, healthcare and gun control were ranked as higher priorities for Democrats in the poll, allowing respondents to name up to to five major problems. But the exponential rise in the percentage citing reproductive rights as a major concern suggests the issue resonates with Democrats as the Supreme Court examines cases that could lead to dramatic restrictions on access to abortion.

“The public has a lot of things they want the government to address,” said Jennifer Benz, deputy director of the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. “You ask this kind of question in times of economic turmoil and in times of pandemic and all these other things going on, we can’t expect abortion to peak. “

With a Tory 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans see it as their best chance in years to overthrow Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion throughout the United States. In December, the Supreme Court left in place a Texas law that bans most abortions in the state and signaled in arguments that it would uphold a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This decision will be made public in June.

Calling abortion poll numbers “austere,” Benz noted that conventional wisdom views abortion as a motivating problem for Republicans, not Democrats. Research conducted in the 1980s and 1990s, Benz said, “consistently found that opponents of abortion had greater strength of attitude and viewed the issue as important to them personally more than pro-choice people.” .

It may change. Sam Lau, senior director of advocacy media at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, believes more Americans are recognizing this moment as a crisis for access to abortion.

“I think what we’ve seen is absolutely an increase in awareness, an increase in urgency, an increase in the need to fight back,” he said. “But I still think huge sections of that population still don’t believe that access to abortion and the 50-year precedent that is Roe v. Wade is really at stake.”

The 1973 court decision, reaffirmed in the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, allows states to regulate but not ban abortion up to the point of fetal viability, at around 24 weeks. If Roe and Casey are canceled in June, abortion would soon become illegal or severely restricted in about half of the states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

It’s a few months away from the midterm elections which should be difficult for Democrats.

Lau thinks people are starting to recognize that they “simply cannot count on the courts to protect our rights and our access to essential health care.”

“We are now calling on elected officials who are champions of sexual and reproductive health care to be bold and go on the offensive and pass proactive legislation to protect access to abortion,” Lau said. “I think voters are going to go to the polls and want to vote for candidates they can trust to protect their health care and reproductive freedom.”

Polls show that relatively few Americans want to see Roe overthrown. In 2020, AP VoteCast, a poll of the electorate, showed that 69% of presidential voters said the Supreme Court should leave the Roe v. Wade as is; only 29% said the court should overturn the decision. In general, AP-NORC polls show that a majority of the public supports the legality of abortion in most or all cases.

Still, Americans have nuanced attitudes on the issue, and many don’t think abortion should be possible after the first trimester or that women should be able to get a legal abortion for any reason.

For Rachelle Dunn, 41, who has known girls in high school and women in college and her adult life who have needed abortions, it is “just health care.”

“It’s something that women I’ve known throughout my life have needed for different reasons,” said Dunn, of Tarentum, Pa. “The government must step in because all of these laws are being written and passed, but none of them are for medical reasons.”

She is worried about the domino effect of these Supreme Court cases, adding that she worries about how they will affect the future of her two daughters, as well as that of her son.

“It seems that, if this has been said over and over, why do we always do this? Dunn said.

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The AP-NORC survey of 1,089 adults was conducted December 2-7 using a sample drawn from the AmeriSpeak probability-based NORC panel, which is designed to be representative of the American population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion