Most Americans No Longer Think the Abortion Debate is All That Important

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 17 2013 2:25 PM

Most Americans No Longer Think the Abortion Debate is All That Important

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Abortion rights protestors Annah Shapiro (R) and Kat Enyeart (L), two women from Portland, Oregon, kiss in front of street preacher Alan Hoyle (far right) on day two of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 5, 2012

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

Here's the main takeaway from a new Pew study on abortion: Most Americans have more important things to care about than the abortion debate. That being said, a majority are against overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that turns 40 this month.

The survey, out yesterday, marked a decline in the issue's relative importance in the eyes of most Americans. More than half (53 percent) said that the issue "is not that important compared to other issues." That's up from 32 percent who said the same in 2006, and 48 percent in 2009. Just 18 percent of Americans currently consider the abortion debate to be a "critical" issue. Most of those in the latter category are against legal abortions, Pew notes, which isn't that surprising.

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But some attitudes haven't changed, according to the survey. Americans are still divided on the morality of abortions — 47 percent say it's morally wrong to have an abortion, 13 percent say it's acceptable, 27 percent don't consider it to be a moral issue, and 9 percent believe it depends on circumstances. Despite the country's split on that topic, however, Americans overwhelmingly do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, 63 percent to 29.

Pew broke down stances on Roe v. Wade by demographic, and there's only one group that has a majority in favor of overturning the Supreme Court decision: White, Evangelical Protestants. Even Catholics, of whom 58 percent say abortion is always morally wrong, lean towards keeping the decision in place.

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The issue's diminished importance for Americans could partially explain another statistic headlining write-ups of the study: Only 44 percent of Americans under the age of 30 (i.e., the ever popular "milennials" category) know that Roe v. Wade has to do with abortion. By comparison, 62 percent of all Americans knew what the landmark case was about. There's also an education gap. Ninety-one percent of Americans with post-graduate education could correctly identify the SCOTUS case's topic, while only 47 percent of those with just a high school education could do the same.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.