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Effects of a US Supreme Court ruling to restrict abortion rights


Previous research focused on popular US Supreme Court rulings expanding rights; however, less is known about rulings running against prevailing public opinion and restricting rights. We examine the impact of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion, which overturned Roe v. Wade’s (1973) constitutional protection of abortion rights. A three-wave survey panel (5,489 interviews) conducted before the leak of the drafted Dobbs opinion, after the leak, and after the official opinion release, and cross-sectional data from these three time points (10,107 interviews) show that the ruling directly influenced views about the constitutional legality of abortion and fetal viability. However, personal opinions were not directly influenced and perceived social norms shifted away from the ruling, meaning that individuals perceived greater public support for abortion. We argue that extensive coverage of opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade supported this shift. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization also caused large changes, polarized by party identification, in opinions about the Supreme Court.

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Fig. 1: Changes in norm perceptions regarding the extent to which a respondent believed that other Americans support legalized abortion.
Fig. 2: Changes in the perceived legitimacy of the US Supreme Court between waves.
Fig. 3: Changes in personal attitudes towards abortion between waves.
Fig. 4: Changes in views on the constitutionality of abortion between waves.
Fig. 5: Public engagement with abortion on Twitter.

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Funding for waves 2 and 3 was provided to E.L.P. from Princeton University. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. We thank J. Simkus, A. Sanchez and N. Rayamajhi for research assistance, and J. Williams at YouGov and C. Pettengill at the Princeton Institutional Review Board for exceptional response times as we responded to real-world events. We also thank T. Clark.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.S.C. is the lead and corresponding author. The order of all other authors was determined by the AEA randomization tool (confirmation code: wcrxOzTKmjlV). C.S.C., E.L.P. and S.J.W. conceptualized the study and designed the wave 2 and 3 surveys. C.S.C., E.L.P., S.J.W., S.J., M.S. and N.M. refined the wave 2 and 3 surveys based on the US Supreme Court SCOTUSPoll wave 1 survey previously designed and published by N.M., S.J. and M.S. C.S.C., E.L.P., S.J.W., S.J., M.S. and N.M. contributed to the pre-analysis plan. C.S.C., E.L.P., S.J.W., S.J. and N.M. analysed the data. C.S.C., E.L.P., S.J.W., S.J., M.S. and N.M. wrote the paper. C.S.C. and S.J.W. wrote the Supplementary Materials.

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Correspondence to Chelsey S. Clark.

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Clark, C.S., Paluck, E.L., Westwood, S.J. et al. Effects of a US Supreme Court ruling to restrict abortion rights. Nat Hum Behav 8, 63–71 (2024).

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