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

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Taken together, these state-level victories for the anti-abortion side, and the heavy publicity they received during the 2012 campaign cycle, may have actually undercut support for overturning Roe v. Wade, by giving those who saw themselves as in the middle on the issue – perhaps wanting some restrictions on abortion, but not an outright ban – a sense that things had gone far enough. And for those already supporting abortion rights, but in a lukewarm kind of way, it may have constituted a wake-up call.  

Last month, when NARAL's president, Nancy Keenan,   announced that she was stepping down, she specifically cited the need to bring more young women into the movement, saying that while the so-called "Millennial generation" tends to be pro-choice, abortion "isn't on the top of their list of issues that they're concerned about." Keenan specifically cited an "intensity gap," with the minority that opposes abortion much more likely to see it as a "very important" issue.

Polling indicates there's been an education gap, as well: According to a recent Pew survey, only 44 percent of those under the age of 30 knew that Roe v. Wade was about abortion. And writing in The Nation, Katha Pollitt notes that while recent polling has shown that more people prefer to call themselves "pro-life" than "pro-choice," research has also found that some 35 percent of those choosing the "pro-life" label say they support Roe v. Wade.

The question is whether the growing restrictions placed on abortion in recent years have had the unintentional effect of pushing voters in the other direction. In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade was decided, the political momentum has often seemed to be on the side of anti-abortion activists, who were able to characterize their efforts as trying to rein in what they saw as the Supreme Court's overreach. But lately, with so many legislative victories on their side, it's the abortion-rights folks who've been able to argue the pendulum needs to swing back toward the middle. And that may be having an impact.

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