Forty-two years after Roe v. Wade, the debate over the issue continues even as public opinion has held relatively steady. Supporters on both sides plan to commemorate the day Thursday by holding rallies at the Supreme Court building, where the Roe decision establishing a woman’s constitutional right to abortion in the first three months of pregnancy was handed down in 1973.
Here are a few key facts about Americans’ views on the topic, based on recent Pew Research Center polling:
1More than six-in-ten (63%) U.S. adults surveyed in 2013 said they would not like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn Roe v. Wade, while about three-in-ten (29%) want to see the ruling overturned. When asked directly about the legality of abortion, 51% of U.S. adults say it should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 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 (75%) say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while four-in-ten residents (40%) 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.
3Roughly 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.
4According 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).
5There’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.