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Roe v. Wade at 40: a new surge in support for abortion rights

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Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP

(Read caption) Abortion rights advocates shout during a rally in Capitol Square in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 22, marking the 40th anniversary Tuesday of the landmark US Supreme Court ruling on abortion known as Roe v. Wade.

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As if to further bolster the argument that liberalism is having a resurgence in the United States, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans – 54 percent – now believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time. Even more broadly, a full 70 percent believe that Roe v. Wade – the controversial decision that, 40 years ago, guaranteed a woman's right to an abortion, at least in the first trimester of pregnancy – should not be overturned.

This is historic: Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey along with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, told NBC's First Read that the results represent "profound changes." He credited, in part, the 2012 presidential campaign, in which women's issues were heavily promoted by the Obama campaign, and a number of Republican Senate candidates unintentionally brought them to the fore with ill-considered comments about abortion and rape.

But ironically, another reason for the overall shift in favor of abortion rights may be the legislative successes of anti-abortion advocates, which have led to a record number of restrictions being placed on abortion at the state level over the past few years.

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 42 anti-abortion measures were enacted in the states in 2012 – including bans on abortion after 20 weeks, bans on state funding for Planned Parenthood, and ultrasound requirements for those seeking abortions. By contrast, only eight measures supporting abortion rights were enacted.

Some of those anti-abortion measures received a lot of national media attention – you may recall the furious discussions last spring of "transvaginal probes," an ultrasound method originally considered as part of Virginia's new law, though that requirement was ultimately discarded in favor of less-invasive methods.

Less widely discussed, but perhaps even more striking, is the diminishing number of abortion clinics now operating in many states. At least four states are down to just a single clinic, and Mississippi could soon become the first state with no abortion provider at all.

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