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40 Years After Roe vs. Wade, Most Don't Want Abortion Decision Overturned

The U.S. Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. (Image credit: Steve Heap/Shutterstock)

Next Tuesday, Jan. 22, will mark the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the historic Supreme Court decision that protected a woman's right to have an abortion. Despite heated political debates over the issue, Americans' attitudes toward abortion have remained quite stable over the past few decades, and according to a new survey, most don't want to reverse the high court's decision — if they even know what it's about. The poll also found that among Americans under 30, less than half knew that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion.

A national survey from the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of Americans don't want Roe v. Wade overturned, compared with 29 percent who want the 1973 ruling reversed. These opinions are hardly changed from Pew's surveys in 2003 and 1993, when 31 percent and 34 percent, respectively, wanted the decision overturned.

Most people surveyed by Pew (62 percent) knew that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion rather than another issue, like school desegregation (7 percent), the death penalty (5 percent) or environmental protection (5 percent). Twenty percent didn't know at all. But there was an age gap in awareness of the decision. Among those ages 50 to 64, 74 percent knew the ruling had to do with abortion, but among those younger than 30, just 44 percent knew this, Pew said.

But that lack of awareness among younger generations might not be all that surprising considering that the under-30 set was also the least likely to think abortion is an a important issue. Among those 18-29, 62 percent described abortion as "not that important compared to other issues," compared with 51 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds who said the same.

Revealing a perhaps unsurprising political gap, 46 percent of Republicans surveyed said Roe v. Wade should be overturned and 48 percent said it should not, while Democrats strongly opposed reversing the decision, 74 to 20 percent. There was no gender gap, however, in public opinion on the issue. Pew found that 64 percent of women and 63 percent of men opposed overturning the decision.

Pew said its poll was conducted Jan. 9 to 13 among a national sample of 1,502 adults.

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Megan Gannon
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.