40 Years Later, Roe v. Wade Enjoys Majority Support

40 years after Roe v. Wade, support for the decision is still strong, but the effort to restrict it continues apace.


It was 40 years ago today that the Supreme Court handed down it’s decision in Roe v. Wade, thus instantly creating one of the most contentious political issues that this country has dealt with in quite some time. Since that time, the issue of abortion and the extent of the Roe decision has been before the Court several times and, while there have been some modifications to what the Court ruled originally, the core holding of the case has remained intact. With President Obama in office for another four years and the prospect of at least another one or two Supreme Court appointments between now and then, it seems fairly clear that Roe will continue to remain good law  for some time to come.

That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been push back, of course. The modern pro-life movement came into being as a response to Roe v. Wade, after all, and shows no signs of going away any time soon, At the state level, and especially in deeply Red states like Oklahoma and Kansas, new efforts to restrict access to abortion by essentially making it next to impossible for doctors to conduct business have met with a notable degree of success. All of these laws are being challenged in various Federal Courts, and some of them are currently blocked from being enforced by Court injunctions. It will be some time, though, before most of these matters even get to the point where the Supreme Court would be considering an appeal. Despite these moves at the state level, though, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicates that support for the rights set forth in Roe v. Wade remains high:

Seven in 10 Americans believe Roe v. Wade should stand, according to new data from a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, as the landmark Supreme Court abortion-rights ruling turns 40 on Tuesday.

That is the highest level of support for the decision, which established a woman’s right to an abortion, since polls began tracking it in 1989. The shift is mostly the result of more Democrats backing the decision—particularly Hispanics and African-Americans—and a slight uptick in support from Republicans.

But the poll showed a consistent tension in Americans’ attitudes toward the decision. Almost seven in 10 respondents say there are at least some circumstances in which they don’t support abortion.

Some 31% of respondents in the poll said abortion should always be legal, and 9% believed it should be illegal without any exceptions. Between those two opinions are the 23% who thought it should be legal most of the time, but with some exceptions, and the 35% who felt it should be illegal except in circumstances of rape, incest and to save a woman’s life.

Since those questions were first asked, a decade ago, more people generally support abortion rights. But the majority of voters whose views aren’t absolute has forced activists on both sides of the issue to rethink their message.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all is well for the abortion rights movement. As I noted above, the pro-life crowd has become very adept in recent years in using state laws regulating the practice of medicine to make it harder for abortion doctors to operate:

Opponents of abortion rights won passage of a record 92 measures restricting the procedure in 24 states in 2011, and an additional 43 in 19 states last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that favors abortion rights. Nine states have recently banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, although courts have kept two of the laws from taking effect.

This year, Texas, Indiana, and Missouri are set to consider restrictions on chemically induced abortions in the coming legislative session, and lawmakers in Indiana and South Carolina have sponsored bills adding regulations to clinics.

The new moves come after several states have passed bills in the past two years requiring abortion clinics to maintain certain staffing levels or install equipment such as ventilation systems that are typically in hospitals. The states describe those efforts as seeking to protect women’s health, while abortion-rights backers say the aim is to increase costs and obstacles for abortion providers.

“I don’t need a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, an antiabortion law firm that works with state groups on local legislation. “Clinic regulations do actually challenge Roe.”

Legally, it’s much hard to attack regulations on the practice of medicine than it would be to attack, say, an outright ban on abortion or significant restrictions on the right. This is why many of the new state based laws have been able to pass Court scrutiny so far. What that means for the laws when they get to the Supreme Court is something I cannot predict at this point, but it clearly would come down largely to what Justice Kennedy thought. So, it’s possible that these tactics will result in Roe being significantly restricted, at least in some states, regardless of what the polls say the public thinks.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Legally, it’s much hard (sic) to attack regulations on the practice of medicine than it would be to attack, say, an outright ban on abortion or significant restrictions on the right.

    GOP’s thinking: Can’t limit abortions? Fine – we’ll just limit women’s access to reproductive health care.

    And Republicans wonder why they’re on the bad end of an electoral gender gap. Real puzzler, this one.

  2. carpeicthus says:

    That infographic needs more lens flare.

  3. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:


    It’s a still from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot.

  4. swbarnes2 says:

    As I noted above, the pro-life crowd has become very adept in recent years in using state laws regulating the practice of medicine to make it harder for abortion doctors to operate:

    You write as if you aren’t part of that crowd. But your vote for Bob McDonnell puts you there. No regrets, there, right?

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    When a poll alleges 70% support or opposition to anything like a legal decision you have to take a step back and reach for some salt. What percentage of the populace do you suppose erroneously believes that if Roe were overturned that would mean abortion automatically would become illegal nationwide? Hell, what percentage of today’s body politic can spell federalism, much less understand that if Roe were overturned in many if not most states there nevertheless would be at the state level various legal protections for abortions? Let’s not be naive. If you sat down and explained to Zombieland what the Roe and Casey decisions actually held, how the federal-state legal interplay works, how states separately can and in many instances already have legalized abortions within their own borders, etc., the results of that poll obviously would have been far different.

    In any event, abortion is one of those topics on which the general public falls within the middle of the political bell curve, not upon the tail end fringes. The Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock cadre definitely hold extreme viewpoints. Irrational viewpoints. And for obvious reasons those widely have been publicized and ridiculed. The radical left-wing side of the abortion debate also occupies an extreme fringe tail end of the curve. Abortion completely on demand, with no restrictions whatsoever, and publicly subsidized no less, not only is outside the mainstream it would make most mainstream people barf up their lunches. But for equally obvious reasons those extreme left-wing viewpoints are not publicized or subjected to scorn and derision for the eyes and ears of the general public. Doesn’t fit the narrative.

    Abortion also is a topic upon which viewpoints change depending upon various factors, most notably demographics. It’s one thing at age 25 to hold the viewpoint that abortion should not be subject to any restrictions whatsoever. It’s quite another thing, however, at age 45, with a teenage daughter, to hold to that same viewpoint.

  6. stonetools says:

    I think that abortion rights are going to be severely restricted in the reddest of the red states in the near future. Eventually, and unfortunately, there will be a spate of deaths from women using “self-help” to abort, or from hospitals not performing therapeutic abortions because of legal restrictions, as in Ireland.Only then public opinion will finally turn against these attempts to restrict abortion . Some women are going to have to die before sanity on abortion rights finally come to the red states.
    I know this doesn’t fit the “sunny optimism” view of US politics, but this is what I think most likely.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    It never fails to amuse me that the same crowd that wants to eliminate abortion also wants to not take any responsibility whatsoever for the same children after they are born. Social Safety Net? F’ no!!! Funding for Mental Health Care? No way!!! Education funding? Get lost!!!
    Government in everyones bedroom…then no Government anywhere else. The Republican wet-dream.
    Abortion, as Clinton said, should be available and rare.

  8. aFloridian says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: The thing I’ve wondered about the “let the states decide” approach to abortion is that, if the court has already ruled that there is a constitutional right concerned here, then wouldn’t those states restricting or completely prohibiting abortion be coming up in violation of that ruling? Similarly, Charmaine Yoest in the article above seems quite content with skirting the law and trying to use clinical regulations to do an end run around the Constitution. Seems that in the long run those efforts ought to fail in the courts.

    With President Obama in office for another four years and the prospect of at least another one or two Supreme Court appointments between now and then, it seems fairly clear that Roe will continue to remain good law for some time to come.

    Does anyone really see a future where abortion is not going to remain legal at the federal level? I do think stonetools has a point, which is further proven by Ms. Yoest above, that the anti-abortion crowd will stop at seemingly nothing to deprive women of what has been established to be a right. The current effort in Mississippi is the one with which I am most familiar and it really is disgustingly blatant what they are doing.

  9. Console says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Privileged white guy can’t fathom why people not like him are concerned about large scale changes to their current rights. News at 11.

    Also +10 points for doing the “both sides do it” trope and not being able to name check one “radical left winger.”

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    You know, if science could only figure out how to get men pregnant, we’d have the right to abortion guaranteed for all time. Hell, they’d let the guy abort until about five minutes before he was wheeled into the delivery room.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    As said, if that friggin’ zygote is so important, stuff it into a pro-lifer’s belly and let HIM carry it to term.

  12. JKB says:

    I found this interesting. The rationale for upholding abortion as a private matter between a woman and her doctor seems to be being undermined by the welfare state. To be certain, this does not raise the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Unwed motherhood is not longer stigmatizing. The impact of an unwanted child on a family is mitigated by the widespread availability of adoption and social support via welfare. Welfare is a debatable topic, but it is also a reality in function.

    From the Justice Blackmun’s decision:

    The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent. Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. All these are factors the woman and her responsible physician necessarily will consider in consultation.

  13. Console says:


    Yeah, make it financially easier for women to have babies and for unwanted babies to actually have a chance at something other than foster homes and you’ll see less abortions.

    But the pro-life rackets is about political mobilization and moral posturing, not actually reducing abortions.

  14. Console says:

    Not to mention that banning abortion is also moreso about punishment for sexy time than it is about life. Which is why even pro-lifers get squeamish about not making rape exceptions.

  15. swbarnes2 says:


    Which is why even pro-lifers get squeamish about not making rape exceptions

    But there is a rather large cohort of anti-choicers who don’t get squeamish about any of it. You can talk about the woman almost dying in Arizona, the women who did die in Ireland and the Dominican Republican, and they don’t even pretend to care. Sandra Fluke’s friend got cysts the size of tennis balls in her body. Can you cite any conservative, anywhere, who say “Holy sh*t, that should never have happened, that absolutely should never happen, how awful that the poor woman had to go through that for no good reason!” I looked, and saw nothing. I did see a libertarian asking why oh why she didn’t get insulin shots or in vitro fertilization instead of birth control pills. That’s not dumb ignorance. That’s an ideological statement. He’s saying that women are so worthless, their lives are so little worth thinking about, that it’s okay to say whatever he wants about them, and he is 100% confident that his audience won’t spend the 2 seconds thought to realize that what he was saying is dangerously crazy.

    Conservatives just don’t care. They think women are lower than dirt, because they are women, and that women deserve any horrible thing that happens to them.

  16. Console says:


    I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that it’s sex instead of patriarchy that gets them riled up, but it’s hard to parse out the two.

  17. gVOR08 says:

    It was 40 years ago today that the Supreme Court handed down it’s decision in Roe v. Wade, thus instantly creating one of the most contentious political issues that this country has dealt with in quite some time.

    This morning commenter Yrogerg at Balloon Juice led me to this slacktivist post. It reminded me that for some time after Roe v. Wade there was no big public deal about it. The bishops were upset when Roe v. Wade was announced. Otherwise there was no “instantly” about it. It took some time for the protestant holy rollers to recognize abortion as a useful tool politically, as well as a great fundraising draw. To use it, they had to change their theology. Over the course of a few years they went from saying the bible clearly said life begins at birth to claiming it clearly says at conception. This is why in 1979, Paul Brown, the founder of the American Life League, scoffed,

    Jerry Falwell couldn’t spell ‘abortion’ five years ago.

    The reproductive slavery people won’t give up this fight easily. It’s too useful politically and it provides a good living for a lot of grifters.

  18. 11B40 says:


    Shouldn’t that be “40 years later, Roe v. Wade enjoys majority support among survivors” ???

  19. Console says:


    Not all of us are here because the condom broke.

  20. C. Clavin says:

    @ JKB…
    You still haven’t owned up to being completely wrong about the NRA ad that lied about Sidwell Friends.
    What a loser.
    Grow a pair.
    I’d call you a pu$$y…but that would be an insult to pu$$ies.

  21. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin:

    You amuse me.

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @ JKB…
    You are a coward, a racist, and a fool.
    We are all amused by you.

  23. bk says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: But for equally obvious reasons those extreme left-wing viewpoints are not publicized

    Because they by and large aren’t put forth by people nominated for – or already occupying – office, unlike the views held by the “Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock cadre”. You really are an idiot.

    (And yes, I am aware that both Akin and Mourdock lost their respective elections. There are many other Republicans currently in office who hold those views).

  24. bk says:

    Sorry for the quote block fail.

  25. Ben Wolf says:

    @JKB: We have 120,000 children that cannot be adopted and have been in foster care an average of three years. Almost all of them went into foster homes before the age of two. And you want to flood that system with millions more per year, then wash your hands of the consequences.

    You really don’t give a damn about anyone but yourself.

  26. JKB says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I was simply pointing out an interesting societal change. I don’t think anyone would try to argue for abortion by presenting the stigma of unwed motherhood or even impact of caring for the child after birth. What remains and always will remain is the gestation period and the mother’s health during that period. As well as the now much more precisely predictable child’s health/disabilities.

  27. Andre Kenji says:

    I´m antiabortion, and I´m staunch defender of the wide and free access to birth control.More access to birth control, less abortions. Simple as that.

  28. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: Until you’re willing to donate a kidney or two, all your talk about being “pro-life” is just so much horse manure. Put your money where your mouth is.

  29. G.A. says:

    There truly are some evil ******* clowns on this site.

  30. pcbedamned says:

    Here’s a novel idea – want to cut down on abortions? Provide both birth control and sex education. Foolproof? No. But it will help. And by sex ed – I mean the full gamut. Abstinence teaching is important, but not the be all to end all. It is not reality based.

    Here in Ontario, our kids start their sex ed in Grade 7 (with the parent’s consent). In Grade 9 health (at least at my kids school) before they leave health class, they MUST take a condom. Once they walk out the door they are free to do with it as they please, but it must be on their person out the door. Now, No One is advocating that teens in Grade 7, 8, 9, etc should be having sex, but the reality is, they are. So forewarned is forearmed. At the local clinic in my town (of about 1000 people), in each room, including the bathroom, STI information and condoms are there for the taking. My son, who is in Gr 9 this year, also told me that the Mac’s in the town where his High School is, has condoms for the taking as well. (funny part of story here – he came home and said to Never use the condoms from Mac’s. It seems, being the 14 year old boys that they are, they took a bunch of them. They then proceeded to attach them to the shower heads in the gym. Apparently, they burst o:O)

    Come to terms that people have sex. Oh, yes they do. And they don’t always wait until they are married. As I told both my son and my daughter, in today’s world there is no reason to get pregnant unless you want to. Be prepared, be safe. Most importantly, don’t be stupid!!!

    Now, here is where I will probably get slammed. I do think there needs to a stigma attached to teen and unwed pregnancy again. Too many teens see it as no big deal and almost a badge of honour. l am not saying we need to go back to the days of ‘sending so and so to camp’ for 9 months, just that it should not be celebrated like it is. Sometimes, a little dose of shame is not a bad thing.

  31. Console says:

    How many babies have YOU adopted or carried to term G.A.?

  32. J-Dub says:

    Gun-toting Republicans decry the premature killing of their future targets.

  33. Rob in CT says:

    Now, here is where I will probably get slammed. I do think there needs to a stigma attached to teen and unwed pregnancy again.

    I’ve come to agree. The stigma shouldn’t be “you had unapproved sex!” but rather “holy sh*t, how stupid are you to have not used birth control?” Granted, sometimes those methods fail, but the failure rates are very low. The vast majority is user error (or no use at all).

    It’s a bit unfair to do this if your area actively fights intelligent sex ed, but in areas that allow proper sex ed (like, say, Connecticut)? Absolutely. It’s certainly my response.

  34. swbarnes2 says:

    A summary of some research on the topic I found interesting:


    For low-income youths, Rhode said, research indicates that “the economic opportunities sacrificed through early parenting did not appear sufficiently great to justify deferring childbirth. Changing that opportunity structure will require fundamental social changes.”

    Basically, social mobility is so bad at the very bottom, that teen mothers don’t have worse chances than teen girls without babies. So we privileged people think it’s very foolish to have a baby as a teen, well, these girls know the economic world they live in, and it’s not as foolish a choice for them as it might seem.

  35. grumpy realist says:

    @pcbedamned: I wouldn’t mind that if the man got slammed as much as the woman.

    Unfortunately, we know what happens historically. Guy gets off scott-free and girl gets called a slut and driven out into the snow by disapproving parents. Not good.

  36. al-Ameda says:

    Paul Ryan holds essentially the same retrograde view toward women and rape as do Akin and Murdock. Those views are now baseline Republican views on abortion and a woman’s right to make her own decisions regarding her health.

  37. Rob in CT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Oh, absolutely. Equal opportunity scorn from me. And I should add it would be directly primarily at those I consider peers, because:


    Yeah, I’d heard about that a few months ago. Prior to that time, it honestly never occurred to me (we all have our bubbles). It’s depressing as hell, but it makes sense. Playing by the rules (I’m using a very fuzzy definition of “rules” here) has to actually result in better outcomes, or people aren’t going to bother.

  38. pcbedamned says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I wouldn’t mind that if the man got slammed as much as the woman.

    Oh, I agree fully! Unfortunately, the reality is that it is the woman who bears the responsibility of the child for life. Of my daughter’s peers that got pregnant (she is 18), at present only one is still with the father. As I have told her from the time she was old enough to understand, you are the one responsible for life – chances are, the guy will not stick around. At the same time though, I have also told my son (he is now 15), that if he ever gets a girl pregnant, he will be responsible for the child for life. For me, it works two ways – no place for sexism in my household.

  39. Jeremy says:

    It’s ironic. The left loves economic regulations requiring businesses to do this and that. They’re always calling for more, more, more. But now that the right is using regulations to try and de facto ban abortion, they’re going to hiss, whine, and complain.

    Here’s a grand idea, boys and girls: maybe we shouldn’t be giving this kind of power to government in the first place.