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. This year, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case challenging a Texas law that requires abortion clinics in the state to meet the same health and safety standards as medical centers that perform outpatient surgeries. The law also requires doctors who work at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Abortion opponents say the Texas law, which was upheld last year by a federal appeals court, is necessary to protect the health and safety of women. They argue that cases such as that of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who in 2013 was convicted of killing babies born alive, have moved them to tighten health regulations at clinics.
But abortion rights supporters contend the statute is intended to make it impossible for most abortion providers in Texas to remain open. Indeed, they claim that of the more than 40 abortion clinics that existed in the state before the law was enacted, fewer than 10 could remain if the statute is upheld in its entirety.
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 at least two decades.
2There is a growing regional divide in opinions about abortion. Three-quarters of New Englanders say 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.
3The Texas law is part of a constellation of abortion restrictions in states around the country. For instance, the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, reports that 28 states (including Texas) currently are enforcing waiting periods of between one and three days for women seeking abortions. And a number of other states, including Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, have enacted laws similar to the Texas statute being challenged in the Supreme Court.
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 having an abortion is morally wrong, 25% of religiously unaffiliated people say so.
5Roughly six-in-ten Americans (62%) know 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 to 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.