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. Most recently, on June 27, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that required abortion clinics in the state to meet the same health and safety standards as medical centers that perform outpatient surgeries. The Texas law also required doctors who work at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
The Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision reversed a lower court ruling last year that had upheld the law. The high court’s ruling could very well seal the fate of similar laws in 12 other states, some of which were already on hold pending this latest ruling.
Texas officials had argued that the law was necessary to protect the health and safety of women. They pointed to cases such as that of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who in 2013 was convicted of killing babies born alive, as justification for tightening health regulations at clinics.
But abortion rights supporters countered that the statute was largely intended to make it impossible for most abortion providers in Texas to remain open. Indeed, they said, if the law had been upheld, only nine of what had until recently been 42 clinics in the state would ultimately remain open to serve an estimated 60,000 Texas women who seek abortions each year.
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, 56% of U.S. adults say it should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 41% 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 substantial ideological divide on abortion, with Democrats much more likely than Republicans to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. This gap is even larger between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Fully 84% of liberal Democrats say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with only three-in-ten self-described conservatives in the GOP.
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 a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.