Numbers & Statistics
5 facts about the abortion debate in America
More than four decades after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, opponents and supporters of abortion rights are still battling over the issue in court, at the ballot box and in state legislatures. A recently enacted Alabama law has been described as the nation’s most restrictive, and several other states also have passed new restrictions on abortion with an eye toward giving the Supreme Court a chance to overturn its decision in Roe.
As the debate over abortion continues, here are five key facts about Americans’ views on the topic, based on recent Pew Research Center polling:
1About six-in-ten U.S. adults (61%) said in a 2019 survey that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 38% who said it should be illegal all or most of the time. On both sides of the issue, Americans are more likely than not to leave room for exceptions, with more saying abortion should be legal or illegal most of the time, rather than always. Public support for legal abortion remains as high as it has been in two decades of polling, and there is virtually no difference between the views of men and women.
2There is a substantial – and growing – partisan divide on abortion, with Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party much more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to support legal abortion in all or most cases (82% vs. 36%). There also are large gaps based on religious affiliation. For example, three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants (77%) say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while an even larger share of religiously unaffiliated Americans (83%) take the opposing view, saying that abortion should be mostly or entirely legal.
3When it comes to the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark abortion ruling, seven-in-ten Americans (70%) in the 2019 survey said Roe v. Wade should not be completely overturned. Again, Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to hold this view; Republicans are roughly evenly divided, with 50% saying they do not want to see Roe v. Wade completely overturned and 48% saying they would like the decision tossed out. Overall, similar majorities of women (70%) and men (69%) do not want Roe v. Wade overturned.
4In a December 2017 survey, roughly half of Americans (48%) said having an abortion is morally wrong, while 20% said they think it is morally acceptable and 31% said it is not a moral issue. These views also differed by religious affiliation: About three-quarters of evangelical Protestants (77%) said having an abortion is morally wrong, but just 24% of religiously unaffiliated people agreed.
5The vast majority of Americans expect abortion to remain at least mostly legal in the U.S. A survey conducted in December 2018 asked Americans what they think the status of abortion laws in the country will be in 2050; about three-quarters said it will either be legal with no restrictions (22%) or legal with some restrictions (55%). Far fewer said it will be illegal except in certain cases (16%) or illegal with no exceptions (5%).
Note: This is an update to a post originally published Jan. 22, 2014.