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Fewer Americans identify as pro-choice, but support for abortion rights isn’t dropping

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The headline out of Gallup’s new abortion poll is that the number of “pro-choice” Americans has hit an all-time low: 41 percent of Americans identify with the label, down from 49 percent in 2009 and an all-time high of 56 percent in 1996.

This, however, seems to say very little about Americans’ support for abortion rights. There, views hold steady: 52 percent believe abortion should be legal under “certain circumstances,” a slight tick up from 50 percent in 2011.

Why, exactly, identification with the pro-choice movement dropped is a bit difficult to decipher. It could suggest that Americans have an increasingly expansive view of what pro-life means. The two charts above, taken together, suggest there is a significant segment of self-identified “pro-life” Americans who support abortion rights in certain circumstances.

It might speak to a sort of generation gap in the pro-choice movement that NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan identified in our recent interview. The modern movement largely came into being to defend Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion. It might be that a label developed 40 years ago might not speak to abortion rights supporters in a way it did for previous generations.

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