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Report Gauges Public Opinion, 40 Years After Roe v. Wade

PHOTO: At the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Pew pollsters have found entrenched attitudes on abortion. Courtesy of Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
PHOTO: At the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Pew pollsters have found entrenched attitudes on abortion. Courtesy of Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
January 21, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - As of this week, it's been a hot-button issue for 40 years. The federal court case that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade, was decided in January 1973. And today, a new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that most Americans - 63 percent - don't want the law to be completely overturned.

Alan Cooperman, associate director for research with the Pew Forum, says public opinion has stayed about the same for the last 20 years.

Compiling the views of 1,500 voters across the country, he says many of the findings show just how complex the issue is.

"There's a substantial portion of the U.S. public, 20 percent, who think abortion is morally wrong - but who do not think that Roe v. Wade should be overturned."

Of people younger than age 30 who were surveyed, just 44 percent knew that Roe v. Wade was a case about abortion. Some thought it was about school desegregation, the death penalty or the environment.

The poll found what Pew calls "deep differences" among religious and political groups about the morality of abortion. However, says Cooperman, it also found that even people who are personally opposed to terminating a pregnancy seem willing to allow for exceptions.

"Public opinion on this is not as divided into two straightforward camps as one might think. The way we asked the moral question is, 'Do you think that abortion is morally wrong, morally acceptable, or not a moral issue?' And then there was a fourth category, of some people who volunteered, 'Well, it depends on the situation.'"

Fifty-three percent of those polled told Pew that the abortion debate is "not that important" compared to other issues facing the country.

The poll results are online at pewforum.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR