08/03/2005 - Abortion has dominated the early skirmishing over President Bush's nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. But the public takes a more expansive view of the court's agenda. Indeed, about as many Americans rate the rights of detained terrorist suspects as a very important issue for the Supreme Court as say that about abortion.
This national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted before Roberts was nominated, finds that abortion is far more important to ideologically committed partisans at either end of the political spectrum than to moderates and independents. The general public also continues to express somewhat ambivalent views on abortion in contrast to conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.
A consistent majority of Americans (65%) are opposed to overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a woman's right to abortion. But most Americans also favor restrictions on abortion. Nearly three-quarters (73%) favor requiring women under age 18 to get parental consent before being allowed to get an abortion.
This ambivalence is reflected in opinions on the overall availability of abortion. About a third (35%) say abortion should be generally available, but 23% favor stricter limits on abortion and 31% favor making it illegal except in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman's life. Only about one-in-ten (9%) say abortion should never be permitted. Moreover, while nearly six-in-ten (59%) think it would be a good thing to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S., one-third (33%) say they don't feel this way.
The study based on separate surveys conducted July 13-17, 2005, among 1,502 adults, and July 7-17, 2005, among 2,000 adults finds that the public's views on social issues are complex, defying easy categorization. But religion plays a pivotal role in many of these issues, ranging from stem cell research to gay marriage.