November 29, 2005

Abortion Seen as Most Important Issue for Supreme Court

On November 30, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case of Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, marking the first time in five years the court has taken up an abortion case. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, more than six-in-ten Americans (62%) say future Supreme Court decisions on abortion are “very important” to them personally. Nearly as many view future court decisions on the rights of suspected terrorists as important. Fewer people see issues such as religious displays on public property, tort reform and affirmative action as very important.

Nearly seven-in-ten evangelical Christians (69%) say that court decisions on abortion are very important to them, more than any other religious group. But abortion is important across the religious spectrum, with majorities of mainline Protestants, Catholics and seculars reporting that abortion decisions are very important to them.

Other polling, conducted in July 2005 by the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, reveals that Americans are somewhat ambivalent about abortion, much as they have been for the past two decades.

On the one hand, Americans overwhelmingly support keeping abortion legal. Fewer than three-in-ten (29%) favor overturning Roe v. Wade, and a mere 9% say that abortion should not be permitted under any circumstances. Even among evangelicals, the most pro-life of religious groups, fewer than half (48%) favor overturning Roe and only 15% say abortion should not be permitted at all. Among Catholics, support for completely outlawing abortion stands at only 11%, while among mainline Protestants and seculars merely one-in-twenty say abortion should never be permitted.

At the same time, a majority of Americans say that there should be more restrictions on abortion than
currently exist. Approximately one-infour (23%) say that abortion should be available but with stricter limits, while 31% say that abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest or to save the woman’s life. In addition, majorities favor requiring minors to get parental consent before obtaining an abortion (73%), say that it would be good to reduce the number of abortions performed in the U.S. (59%) and express moral concerns about abortion (with 41% saying abortion is sometimes immoral and 29% saying abortion is nearly always immoral).

On each of these questions, evangelical Christians stand out for their pro-life views; 86% favor parental consent laws, 79% say it would be good to reduce the number of abortions and 87% say that abortion is sometimes or nearly always morally wrong. Seculars, by contrast, stand out for their pro-choice opinions. Half of seculars (51%) reject the idea that reducing the number of abortions would be a good thing, and about as many (50%) say that abortion is not a moral issue.