Fifteen years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in most circumstances, Americans remain sharply divided on the issue.
The public is opposed to changing the nation's laws "to make it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion" by a 5 to 4 ratio, but roughly one-third of Americans can be classified as strong supporters of the antiabortion movement and one-third classed as strong opponents.
There are significant divisions in attitudes toward abortion among those who belong to religious groups.
Strongest opposition comes from evangelical Protestants, while the strongest support comes from nonevangelical Protestants, Jews and those with no religious affiliation.
American Catholics, whose church condemns abortion, are evenly divided on the question of making it more difficult to obtain an abortion.
According to a survey taken in April and May of last year, 51 percent of all Americans are opposed to making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, while 41 percent favor such a change. Among Catholics, 48 percent oppose more restrictions on abortion, while 46 percent support them.
Jews oppose abortion restrictions by 76 to 20 percent, and those with no religious affiliation are opposed by 72 to 15 percent.
Evangelical and nonevangelical Protestants hold dramatically different views on abortion. White evangelical Protestants -- those who identify themselves as "born-again" Christians -- support restrictions on abortion by 62 to 32 percent, while white nonevangelical Protestants are opposed by 60 to 32 percent.
Identification as an evangelical is also a factor in attitudes of black Protestants. Black evangelical Protestants are evenly divided, with 44 percent supporting abortion restrictions and 46 percent opposing. But black nonevangelical Protestants oppose restrictions by 62 to 26 percent.
Rating their personal feelings about the antiabortion movement on a scale of 1 to 10, 33 percent of Americans said they were strong supporters of the antiabortion movement and 36 percent were strong opponents. In general, the pattern of response paralleled the responses to the question about making abortion more difficult to obtain.
The one group showing a significant difference was Catholics -- 39 percent were strong supporters of the antiabortion movement, while 29 percent were strong opponents. The fact that Catholics consider themselves strong supporters of the antiabortion movement but are evenly divided on the question of legal restrictions suggests that to some Catholics, being antiabortion does not necessarily mean being in favor of legal restrictions. Rather, members of this group may see their goal as persuading women not to choose abortion, even though it is legal.
In general, younger people and those with a college education are more likely to oppose restrictions on abortion. Men are more likely to oppose restricting access to abortions than are women.