Washington, D.C. – As the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision approaches, the public remains opposed to completely overturning the historic ruling on abortion. A new poll by the Pew Research Center finds that more than six-in-ten (63%) say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Only about three-in-ten (29%) would like to see the ruling overturned. These opinions are little changed from surveys conducted 10 and 20 years ago.
Decades after the Supreme Court rendered its decision, on Jan. 22, 1973, most Americans (62%) know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion rather than school desegregation or some other issue. But the rest either guess incorrectly (17%) or say they do not know what the case was about (20%). And there are substantial age differences in awareness: Among those ages 50 to 64, 74% know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, the highest percentage of any age group. Among those younger than 30, just 44% know this.
The latest national survey, conducted jointly by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life from Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, includes additional key findings:
Abortion Viewed as Less Important Issue. Currently, 53% say abortion “is not that important compared to other issues,” up from 48% in 2009 and 32% in 2006. The percentage viewing abortion as a “critical issue facing the country” fell from 28% in 2006 to 15% in 2009 and now stands at 18%.
Religious Differences Regarding Overturning Roe. White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority favors completely overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. Large percentages of white mainline Protestants, black Protestants and white Catholics say the ruling should not be overturned. Fully 82% of the religiously unaffiliated oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
Morality of Abortion. Nearly half of Americans (47%) say they personally believe that it is morally wrong to have an abortion, compared with 27% who say it is not a moral issue, 13% who find it morally acceptable and 9% who volunteer that it depends. About one-in-five (18%) say they personally believe that abortion is morally unacceptable yet also oppose the Supreme Court overturning its Roe v. Wade ruling.
No Gender Gap. There are no significant gender differences in opinions about the Roe v. Wade decision, the importance of abortion as an issue, or the morality of abortion.
The poll is part of a larger research package released by the Pew Forum to mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It includes a slideshow that illustrates public opinion on abortion, including trends from 1995 to 2012 and views by party identification, gender and age. The package also includes a legal analysis examining the landmark case and the history of other key abortion rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a fact sheet that describes many religious groups’ official positions on abortion. The full set of resources is available on the Pew Forum’s website.
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. As part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers.