5 facts about abortion
More than four decades after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, opponents and supporters of abortion rights are still battling over the issue in court. The most recent salvos were fired in New Orleans on June 9, when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas law that requires abortion clinics in the state to meet rigorous health and safety standards. Abortion opponents say the law is necessary to protect the health and safety of women. But abortion rights supporters contend the statute is intended to make it impossible for most abortion providers in Texas to remain open; they plan to ask the Supreme Court to review the 5th Circuit’s ruling.
Meanwhile, public opinion on abortion has held relatively steady, with Americans roughly divided on the issue. Here are a few key facts about Americans’ views on the topic, based on recent Pew Research Center polling:
1When asked directly about the legality of abortion, 51% of U.S. adults say it should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 43% who say it should be illegal all or most of the time. In both cases, these figures have remained relatively stable for more than 20 years.
2There is a growing regional divide in opinions about abortion. Three-quarters of New Englanders say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while four-in-ten residents of South Central states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas) say the same. Many states have enacted new abortion restrictions in recent years, and challenges to several of those laws are making their way through the courts.
3According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, 15 states enacted 26 new abortion restrictions in 2014, substantially fewer than the 22 states that enacted 70 restrictions the year before. Still, from 2011 to 2014, 231 abortion restrictions were enacted, while 189 were enacted during the previous decade (2001-2010). In Texas, the number of abortion clinics operating in the state has dropped from 41 in 2012 to 18 today in the wake of a number of abortion laws enacted in recent years.
4There’s a difference between what Americans think should be legal and what they think is moral. About half of Americans (49%) say that having an abortion is morally wrong, while 15% think it is morally acceptable and 23% say it is not a moral issue. These views differ by religious affiliation: While 75% of white evangelical Protestants say that having an abortion is morally wrong, 25% of religiously unaffiliated people say so.
5Roughly six-in-ten Americans (62%) know that Roe v. Wade was a decision about abortion, but among adults under 30 years old, only 44% know. Younger adults also are less likely to view abortion as an important issue: 62% of Americans ages 18-29 say it is “not that important” compared with other issues, while 53% of adults overall say this.
Note: This is an update to a post originally published Jan. 22, 2014.
Category: 5 Facts
Michael Lipka is an editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.