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Press Release · February 25, 2009

Pro-Choice Views Prevail, But Californians Far From United on Abortion

Most Support Sex Education in Schools, Government-Funded Birth Control for Teens, Poor

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 25, 2009—While Californians strongly favor pro-choice policies, their attitudes have shifted slightly in favor of abortion restrictions, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The statewide survey—the second on public opinions about the state’s population—finds that most Californians (66%) do not want the U.S. Supreme Court to completely overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. They are far more likely to say that the government should not interfere with abortion access (61%) than they are to favor more restrictions on abortion (35%). But since January 2000, the percentage of Californians who oppose limits on access to abortion has declined 10 points (71%)—while the percentage who back abortion restrictions has increased 8 points (27%). Residents split sharply on this question along both party and racial/ethnic lines. Most Democrats (74%) and independents (66%) say the government should not interfere with abortion access, with Republicans more divided, 47 percent favoring more restrictions and 50 percent opposed. Black (71%), white (70%), and Asian (61%) residents do not want access to abortion limited, but half of Latinos (52%) would like greater restrictions.

A majority (68%) of Californians do favor one type of abortion restriction: a state law that would require parents to be notified before a woman under 18 can get an abortion. Although voters have narrowly rejected three state ballot initiatives that would have required parental notification, Californians today favor the idea when asked outside the context of a political campaign. Majorities across party lines (55% Democrats, 66% independents, 77% Republicans), regions, and ethnic and racial groups favor a parental notification law. Latinos (81%) are the most likely group (70% Asians, 68% blacks, 58% whites) to support the idea.

“There is no question that California is still a pro-choice state,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president, CEO, and survey director. “But there are strong elements of disagreement over abortion policy, whether because of political polarization or demographic changes.”

Most Back Government­-Funded Family Planning, But Partisan Splits Emerge

While Californians overwhelmingly (89%) believe that access to birth control methods and contraceptives is important in reducing unplanned pregnancies, far fewer (46%) are aware that the government funds these services for lower-income residents.

Partisan divisions surface when it comes to support for these types of government-funded programs. A solid majority (79%) of Californians favor family-planning programs for lower-income residents. Republicans (56%) are far less likely to favor these programs than independents (79%) and Democrats (89%). Efforts to provide contraceptives and birth control methods to lower-income residents draw similar levels of support among Californians (77%) and across party lines (57% Republicans, 76% independents, 87% Democrats).

When asked whether they support government-funded programs that provide contraceptives to teens, 70 percent are in favor, down from 76 percent in December 2005. The partisan divide is even wider on this question. Solid majorities of Democrats (81%) and independents (71%) back these programs, but Republicans’ views have shifted. While 54 percent supported these programs in 2005, only 44 percent do today.

In light of significant cuts in the state budget, three in four Californians are very (41%) or somewhat (35%) concerned about the impact on lower-income residents’ access to family-planning and birth control programs. A majority of Democrats (53%) are very concerned; 40 percent of independents and 22 percent of Republicans are.

Most See Teen Pregnancy as Big Problem, Strongly Back Comprehensive Sex Ed

Although California has significantly reduced teen pregnancies since the early 1990s, 77 percent of its residents say teen pregnancy is a big problem (42%) or somewhat of one (35%) in their regions. Latinos (62%) are far more likely than blacks (49%), whites (30%), and Asians (27%) to say it is a big problem.

A strong majority of Californians (68%) say access to reproductive health care, birth control, and contraceptives is very important in preventing teen pregnancy in their region, and just 10 percent say it is not important. An even larger percentage of residents (78%) believe that giving teens comprehensive sex education, including information about abstinence, birth control, and healthy relationships is very important in preventing pregnancy.

HIV/AIDS prevention education is required in public middle and high schools, but sex education is not. School districts that provide sex education—most in the state do—must offer a comprehensive approach, rather than abstinence-only. Most Californians (76%) favor the comprehensive approach; 20 percent favor an abstinence-only program.

Although sex education is voluntary for school districts, 90 percent of residents view it as at least somewhat important to teach in local public schools. A strong majority (64%) say it should be taught in both middle and high school, while 19 percent say it should be required in high school only. Solid majorities across racial and ethnic groups favor offering it at both levels, with Latinos (76%) and blacks (75%) most likely to agree.

Only 9 percent say schools are doing more than enough when it comes to teaching sex education; 37 percent say schools are doing just enough, 34 percent say they are not doing enough, and 20 percent are unsure. Across ethnic and racial groups, blacks (49%) are more likely than others to say that sex education is inadequate in their schools.

About a third of Californians say that sex education is very effective (32%) in helping teens avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, but they are less sure about whether it helps teens avoid pregnancy (21%) or abstain from sex (14%).

Few Californians Understand Cause of Population Growth

California’s population is projected to grow by 10 million people to 49 million in the next 20 years. Births have been and are expected to be the single biggest factor in growth, with immigration a key contributor. However, Californians view population growth differently. Half (51%) say immigration is the biggest cause of population growth, and far fewer (15%) identify births as the top cause. A plurality of residents across regions, parties, and demographic groups cite immigration as the biggest factor, with those in the Inland Empire (60%) and whites (61%) most likely to say so.

Looking at their own regions, half of Californians (50%) think illegal immigration contributes a lot to population growth. Residents in Orange and San Diego counties (59%) and the Inland Empire (55%) are more likely to say so than are residents in Los Angeles (49%), the Central Valley (47%), and the San Francisco Bay Area (41%).

Half of Californians (52%) say the expected statewide population growth is a bad thing for them and their families, and only 13 percent call it a good thing—a finding similar to one in the December 2005 survey.

But Californians are divided in their opinions of regional population growth: 49 percent say is a big (20%) or somewhat big (29%) problem, and half (50%) say it is not a problem. The view that regional population growth is a problem has declined 12 points since 2005. Despite projections of 10 of statewide population growth, only 41 percent think there will be rapid growth in their regions in the next 20 years, compared to 59 percent who thought so in 2005.

Baldassare says this finding has potentially important implications for California’s future.

“The decline in perception that population growth is a big problem could make it more difficult to generate public support for infrastructure investment,” he says.


  • Abortion and the governor’s race—page 22
    Looking ahead to 2010, most say the gubernatorial candidates’ positions on abortion are very (44%) or somewhat important (35%). Evangelical Christians (60%) and those who would like the Supreme Court to make it harder to get an abortion (59%), to overturn Roe v. Wade (62%), and favor more restrictions on abortion (60%) are far more likely than others to say candidates’ positions on this issue are very important.
  • How many children should families have?—page 23
    More residents (42%) choose two children as the ideal number for a family to have, although preferences vary by income and race and ethnicity.
  • Schwarzenegger approval rating hits 33 percent, Obama’s is 70 percent —pages 27, 32
    Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating drops to 33 percent from 40 percent in January, and the state legislature’s stays at a record low 21 percent. Californians give President Barack Obama a 70-percent approval rating in the first month of his term.


This survey is the 95th PPIC Statewide Survey in a series that has generated a database of the responses of more than 202,000 Californians. The survey is part of a series on education, environment, and population issues funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,502 California adult residents, on landline and cell phones. Interviews were conducted from February 3–17, 2009, in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Korean. The sampling error for the total sample is ±2 percent. It is larger for subgroups. For more information on methodology, see page 25.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.