- 40 years ago today, January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade was handed down, supporting a woman’s right to privacy in the matter of abortion. While that decision is inarguably one of the most controversial ever decided by the Court, one that has been made a banner issue for conservatives and right-wing politicians in every phase of government, whether legislative, elective, or general politicking on party platforms. Given that high-profile as a partisan wedge issue, the tugged-at center between forces arguing issues of women’s reproductive rights and social justice, the news of today will be surprising to some, vindication to others: an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that, for the first time in history, the majority of Americans believe “abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” From FirstRead.NBC:
What’s more, seven in 10 respondents oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, which is the highest percentage on this question since 1989.
“These are profound changes,” says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and his colleagues.
McInturff adds that the abortion-related events and rhetoric over the past year – which included controversial remarks on abortion and rape by two Republican Senate candidates, as well as a highly charged debate over contraception – helped shaped these changing poll numbers.
“The dialogue we have had in the last year has contributed … to inform and shift attitudes.”
Translation: Republicans, with their litany of insensitive and unscientific rhetoric about many of the issues related to women and their reproductive systems, inclusive of abortion, have managed to offend so pervasively that backlash has created greater support for abortion, not less. And while some states, particularly red states with heavily Christian populations, are becoming more restrictive (in 2012, “19 states enacted a total of 43 provisions limiting access to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute” [Source]), the polling public in general sees it differently.
According to the poll, 54 percent of adults say that abortion should be legal either always or most of the time, while a combined 44 percent said it should be illegal – either with or without exceptions.
In addition, a whopping 70 percent of Americans oppose the Roe v. Wade decision being overturned, including 57 percent who feel strongly about this.
That’s up from the 58 percent who said the decision shouldn’t be overturned in 1989; the 60 percent who said this in 2002; and the 66 percent who said this in 2005.
By comparison, just 24 percent now want the Roe v. Wade decision overturned, including 21 percent who feel strongly about this position. [Source]
Beyond the cultural alienation spurred by Republican cluelessness, there is another demographic shift that contributes to these changing dynamics: the growing number of African-Americans, Latinos, and even women without college degrees who are politically active and increasingly unwilling to accept a change in the Roe v. Wade decision.
[To see full poll results, click here.]
In an interesting and related side-note, another poll – the The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey – discovered an even more compelling point of public opinion on the topic. Their poll included questions that compared attitudes about the “moral acceptability” of various activities, and discovered that not only do more Americans support abortion, they find it more morally acceptable than they do smoking pot or tax evasion.
Given the raft of urgent issues that have been prioritized by the American public and many in government – gun violence and gun control, climate change, environmental protections, healthcare reform, immigration reform, civil rights and equality, global wars, the challenged economy, etc. – it seems clear the issue of abortion is seen, by the majority of Americans, as an issue that has already been decided. By the Supreme Court. 40 years ago. Decided. And despite the loud and raucous voices of the religious right in their attempt to legislate their view of science and morality, the rest of the country is satisfied with that decision of 40 years ago.
Let’s move forward, not back. There’s plenty to do in that direction.
[See video of NBC's Garrick Utley and Betty Rollin reporting on the landmark decision by the Supreme Court on the issue of abortion, January 22, 1973]: