Abortion Views Relatively Unchanged 40 Years After Roe v. Wade, Statistics Show
Image: Niall Carson / AP
Abortion Views Relatively Unchanged 40 Years After Roe v. Wade, Statistics Show

(RNS) In the past four decades, American attitudes have changed markedly on gay marriage, smoking, bullying and a host of other cultural issues.

But on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, public opinion today looks much as it did back then.

When it comes to American views on the legality of abortion, "the trend lines look about as flat as they can be," said Daniel Cox, research director at the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.

Just a few years after the justices decided Roe, Gallup pollsters began asking Americans about abortion. In 1975, 54 percent said it should be legal only under certain circumstances; last year, that figure was virtually unchanged, at 52 percent.

And the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life this month found that 63 percent of Americans don't want Roe overturned, a mere 3-percentage-point increase from 1992.

In more recent years, opinions on the morality of abortion have remained similarly stable, with about half of Americans (47 percent) calling it "morally wrong" and four in 10 considering it "morally acceptable" or "not a moral issue," according to Pew.

So there you have the general, seemingly static American view on abortion: a lot of us aren't comfortable with it, and favor some restrictions — but most want it to remain legal.

But are Americans' feelings about abortion really so stagnant? On either side of the debate, are views simply passed down from parents to children, like eye color?

Dig a little deeper, say those who study public opinion and abortion, and you'll find some interesting changes over time — some within various religious groups, and others that ...

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