ANDERSON - Late last year, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux wrote an article for the website FiveThirtyEight titled “What Americans really think about abortion.”

The answer, she discovered, is not much. “Given the longstanding, intractable division on abortion, one might think that Americans hold murky views because they’re actively, even painfully, wrestling with the matter,” she wrote. “But that’s not what I found when I dug into the issue. The truth is that many Americans just don’t like talking or thinking about abortion.”

That might soon change. The U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to overturn a 49-year-old precedent in Roe vs. Wade, and at least some voters are mad about it.

Listening to the noise, you might get the idea that America is split down the middle. The reality is significantly more complicated. The folks who care deeply about this issue make up less than half of the U.S. population.

Gallup has been polling on the issue since 1975, and it has found consistently that most Americans fall into an ill-defined middle. Most support restrictions on abortion but never an outright ban. In 2018, pollsters asked whether abortion should be legal if a woman’s life were in danger, and almost everyone said yes. The number was 83% if the procedure were carried out during the first three months of pregnancy. It dropped to 75% for an abortion carried out in the late stages.

Asked if abortion should be legal for a child conceived through rape or incest, 77% of respondents said yes for an abortion performed in the first three months. The number dropped to 52% for an abortion carried out during the final three months. Gallup found 56% of respondents saying abortion should be legal in the first trimester if doctors found the child would be born with a mental disability, but the number fell to 35% if an abortion were carried out for that reason in the final three months of pregnancy.

Results were similar for a child with a life-threatening illness. Gallup found 67% supporting an abortion in the first three months, but the number fell to 48% for an abortion carried out in the final three months of pregnancy.

In 2021, Gallup asked respondents if they favored a ban on abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy, and 56% said no. Asked if they supported a ban after detection of a fetal heartbeat, 58% said no. Asked if they supported a ban after detection of a genetic disease or disorder, 57% said no.

Gallup has been asking since 1989 whether respondents would like to see the precedent in Roe vs. Wade overturned, and the answer has consistently been no. Support for overturning the precedent has never been higher than the 36% recorded in 2002. It dropped as low as 25% in 2006.

What those in the middle really want, Thomson-DeVeaux wrote, is for the combatants to find a compromise. "Clearly identifying an acceptable middle ground on abortion isn’t easy for most people to do, though,” she wrote. “That’s in part because many Americans don’t know much about abortion to begin with, and perhaps as a result, their views aren’t usually more specific than a belief that the procedure should be available in at least some cases.”

Until now, most Americans haven’t paid much attention to this issue. Abortion doesn’t usually rank all that high on the priority list for most voters. The question now is how moderate voters will react when the Supreme Court issues what will likely be an unpopular opinion. What will those folks in the middle do when legislatures across the country start imposing total bans on abortion?

Will they take to the streets? Will they turn out to vote? We’ll find out soon enough.

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at kelly.hawes@indianamediagroup.com. Find him on Twitter @Kelly_Hawes.