Global public opinion about abortion is shifting

Although the political debate surrounding abortion often seems most heated in the United States, recent data suggest that global public opinion on this thorny moral and medical issue is more fluid than one might think.

Ipsos has been tracking views on abortion annually since 2014. This year’s poll of 17,500 adults across 25 countries indicates that, on average, 70% think abortion should be permitted — down from 75% in 2016, and 2 percentage points lower than in 2014. (These figures include all abortion; when asked if abortion should be permitted “whenever a woman decides she wants one” the global acceptance rate falls to 44%.)

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Regionally, abortion is most widely supported in Europe (80%) and North America and Asia-Pacific (71%), compared with Latin America (62%) and Africa and the Middle East (60%). Of the countries surveyed, the highest rates of acceptance were found in Sweden (88%), Belgium (87%), France (84%), and Great Britain, Netherlands and Spain (83%); the lowest rates were found in India (63%), Turkey (56%), Brazil (53%), Peru (48%), and Malaysia (24%). The acceptance rate of the United States was 64% — in line with Mexico and South Africa.

However, a look at Ipsos’s seven-year trend data suggests that views on abortion are not as settled as one might imagine for a debate that has played out over generations. In South Korea, for example, the rate of acceptance has seesawed dramatically between 2014 and 2020, rising and falling by double digits from year to year; whereas in Mexico the rate of acceptance has gradually risen from 51% to 64%, despite a slight dip in 2015.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is the number of countries, many in Europe, where acceptance of abortion has declined over the years, in some cases quite significantly — as illustrated in the chart below.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Ben Schott is a Bloomberg Opinion visual columnist. He created the Schott’s Original Miscellany and Schott’s Almanac series, and writes for newspapers and magazines around the world.