Tuesday, January 22nd, marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. A new survey shows that the majority of Americans are opposed to overturning the decision, but our new graphic of the week demonstrates that public attitudes about abortion cannot simply be reduced to their views on legality.
Here we consider abortion from three angles: morality, legality, and availability. Most Americans believe that abortion should be legal in some cases and available in some places: 56 % believe that it should be legal in all or most cases and 58% believe that at least some health care professionals in their community should provide abortions. However, only 40% of Americans believe that abortion is morally acceptable. The graphic of the week shows how Millennials (age 18-29) and seniors (age 65 and older) come down on these questions and reveals an important difference in how each generation approaches this issue. Among Americans overall, nearly equal numbers support the legality and local availability of abortion. Millennials, however, are more likely to support the availability of abortions (68%) than to support the legality of abortions (60%). Limiting the abortion debate strictly to questions about legality provides for an incomplete picture of public opinion, and masks important differences among Americans on this important topic.