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Current Views on Abortion

Sponsor: The Barna Group
Released: 2010-06

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The Barna study of 1,001 adults explored Americans’ views on abortion by asking if they believe “abortion should be legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, or illegal in all cases.” Given this set of four options, the nation’s population leans toward retaining legal status for abortion: 49% prefer keeping it legal in all or most cases versus 42% who would like to make it illegal in all or most instances.

However, most Americans take a moderate, rather than hard-line, stance. Only about one-third of Americans take a strong position on one side or the other. For instance, 15% want abortion to be legal in every situation and 19% prefer the practice to be illegal in all cases. Most others hold moderate views – 57% expressed a mildly supportive or unsupportive opinion. Meanwhile, 9% of adults simply responded “not sure” or declined to answer. Compared to tracking data conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s, the new research suggests that Americans are more likely these days to take a “middle ground” or “not sure” position toward abortion.

Faith remains a significant dividing line of opinions. Among evangelical Christians, 78% believe that the practice should be illegal in all or most cases, a proportion which is virtually mirrored by the 72% of atheists and agnostics who support keeping the practice legal. Also, each of these segments was the most likely population group to express unyielding resistance to (evangelicals) or support for (atheists and agnostics) abortion. Other faith audiences were less polarized, but still had distinct perspectives on the matter, either for or against. Non-evangelical born again Christians favor making abortion illegal (55% illegal versus 39% legal), as did active churchgoers (60% versus 33%) and non-mainline Protestants (58% versus 34%). Those faith segments that prefer keeping abortion legal were self-identified Christians who are not born again (54% legal versus 31% illegal), Catholics (53% versus 36%), mainline Protestants (53% versus 40%), and faiths other than Christianity (54% versus 42%).

Interestingly, when faith and political allegiance are combined, born again Republicans (72%) were among the most ardent critics of abortion. Born again independent voters also favored making abortion illegal (58%), while born again Democrats were split between those who were for (47%) and against (47%) the practice.