Polls conducted in 2009 have found fewer Americans expressing support for abortion than in previous years. In Pew Research Center polls in 2007 and 2008, supporters of legal abortion clearly outnumbered opponents; now Americans are evenly divided on the question, and there have been modest increases in the numbers who favor reducing abortions or making them harder to obtain. Less support for abortion is evident among most demographic and political groups.
The latest Pew Research Center survey also reveals that the abortion debate has receded in importance, especially among liberals. At the same time, opposition to abortion has grown more firm among conservatives, who have become less supportive of finding a middle ground on the issue and more certain of the correctness of their own views on abortion.
No single reason for the shift in opinions is apparent, but the pattern of changes suggests that the election of a pro-choice Democrat for president may be a contributing factor. Among Republicans, there has been a seven point decline in support for legal abortion and a corresponding six point increase in opposition to abortion. But the change is smaller among Democrats, whose support for legal abortion is down four points with no corresponding increase in pro-life opinion. Indeed, three groups of President Obama’s strongest supporters – African Americans, young people and those unaffiliated with a religion – have not changed their views on abortion at all. At the same time, fully half of conservative Republicans (52%) – the political group most opposed to abortion – say they worry Obama will go too far in supporting abortion rights.
The shift in opinion is broad-based, appearing in most demographic groups in the population. One of the largest shifts (10 points) has occurred among white, non-Hispanic Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly. Substantial change has also occurred among Democratic men (with support for abortion down nine points), but not among Democratic women.
A few tidbits on attitudes among people of faith:
*]“Among religious groups, observant white mainline Protestants and white Catholics (i.e., those who attend worship services at least weekly) each exhibit double-digit declines in support for legal abortion, as do Jews and less-observant white evangelical Protestants. By contrast, the views of black Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated have held steady.”
*]“Almost two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants (64%) back greater restrictions on abortion, but fewer than half as many white mainline Protestants (27%) and the religiously unaffiliated (23%) say the same. Catholics fall in between, with 44% in support of more restrictions on abortion.”
*]“Those who attend worship services more often are also more apt to favor restrictions on abortion. A slight majority of those who attend church at least weekly (53%) favor more restrictions, compared with 37% of those who attend monthly or yearly and 28% of those who seldom or never attend.”
*]“Among religious groups, white evangelicals (and especially those who attend services more often) see the abortion issue critically important (29% overall, and 35% among high attenders) or as one important issue among many (42% each). White mainline Protestants and the unaffiliated, by contrast, are the least likely to say the issue is a critical one (7% each), and most likely to say the issue is not important (60% and 70%). There is also a wide discrepancy between Catholics who attend Mass weekly and those who do not; among the former, 21% say abortion is critical, compared with 4% among those who attend less often. Black Protestants are less likely than white evangelicals to say abortion is critical (17% vs. 29%), but more likely than white mainliners (7%). A plurality of black Protestants (42%) say abortion is not an important issue.”
*]“Among white Catholics who attend Mass weekly (most of whom oppose abortion), one-in five continue to rate abortion as a critical issue, which is essentially unchanged since 2006. By contrast, among white Catholics who attend Mass less regularly (most of whom support legal abortion), the figure has dropped from 20% to 4%, a decline of 16 percentage points. Similarly, among the unaffiliated, there has been a 19-point drop, from 28% to 7%. Worship service attendance overall is also linked with the change in the perceived importance of the abortion issue. Those who attend least regularly are now 18 points less likely to rate abortion as a critical issue, compared with a six-point drop among those who attend weekly and a 13-point drop among those who attend monthly or yearly.”