Forty years after Roe v. Wade, most under 30 don’t know case was about abortion

J. Scott Applewhite AP Roe v. Wade: decided on Jan. 22, 1973. Found that a Texas law that criminalized assisting … Continued

J. Scott Applewhite


Roe v. Wade: decided on Jan. 22, 1973. Found that a Texas law that criminalized assisting women with abortions unconstitutional. Pictured: Jane Roe.

Next week is 40 years since the landmark abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade and a new poll shows the majority of people under 30 can’t name what the case was about.

The new research coming out Wednesday from The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows 62 percent of Americans overall correctly identifying that the case dealt with abortion. Another 17 percent guess incorrectly and 20 percent offer no answer for what the case was about. Awareness drops to 44 percent among those ages 18 to 29, while strong majorities of older generations know it dealt with abortion.

On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion at least in the first three months of pregnancy.

The Pew report mirrors other research of the last two decades showing views on whether or not to overturn Roe remaining steady. Washington Post polling since the early 1990s has found the share of Americans saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases hovering around 55 percent, with just over four in 10 saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

But the Pew report shows significant religious and partisan differences on whether to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority (54 percent) favors completely overturning the decision. Large percentages of white mainline Protestants (76 percent), Black Protestants (65 percent) and white Catholics (63 percent) say the ruling should not be overturned,” Pew says. Eighty-two percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation oppose overturning.

“Half of Americans who attend religious services at least weekly favor completely overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, compared with just 17 percent of those who attend less often,” according to the Pew report.

“Republicans are evenly divided over whether the ruling should be overturned: 46 percent say it should while 48 percent say it should not. By wide margins, Democrats (74 percent to 20 percent) and independents (64 percent to 28 percent) oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.”

Young people’s views on abortion aren’t much different from the views of people up to their mid-60s – 55 percent of Americans under age 30 support legal abortions in most or all cases, as do 57 percent of those ages 50 to 64. That’s dramatically different from young Americans’ views on another hot-button issue: same-sex marriage, where those under 30 are much more supportive than their elders.

This post has been updated.

Capital Insight survey research analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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  • tony55398

    So called free love was all about free sex and sex is almost never free, it has consequences that extend far beyond the act itself, and women are the biggest losers by far. Men are never really happy when the women in their dating life gives in, they in most if not all cases would like to believe that the women they date, especially those they would like to marry, are not so easy. The virgin is still a guys choice for a wife, or a women that is not, is so because she had no choice. No wonder the divorce rate is so high as well as the number of abortions.

  • cricket44

    Goodness, generalization after generalization, assumption, projection and all around nonsense. The anti-choice way.

  • tony55398

    No, the I love you, I love you, from a guy too often means ” I want to have sex” and then if the girl gets pregnant it’s a different story and he encourages her to abort, because that wasn’t in his plans. I’m a guy and when I was younger the guys would brag and far too often put down the girl who gave out. Believe it. The girl puts her body, mind and soul into sex because she relates to love, and the guy just wants to have a little fun and get his jollies off. If he really loved the girl he would wait for her at the Altar.