40 Years After Roe v. Wade, How Do Americans Really Feel About Abortion?

Courtesy Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Courtesy Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

In the past four decades, American attitudes have changed markedly on gay marriage, smoking, bullying, and a host of other cultural issues.

But on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, public opinion today looks much as it did back then.

When it comes to American views on the legality of abortion, “the trend lines look about as flat as they can be,” said Daniel Cox, research director at the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.

Just a few years after the justices decided Roe, Gallup pollsters began asking Americans about abortion. In 1975, 54 percent said it should be legal only under certain circumstances; last year, that figure was virtually unchanged, at 52 percent.

And the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life this month found that 63 percent of Americans don’t want Roe overturned, a mere 3-percentage-point increase from 1992.

In more recent years, opinions on the morality of abortion have remained similarly stable, with about half of Americans (47 percent) calling it “morally wrong” and four in 10 considering it “morally acceptable” or “not a moral issue,” according to Pew.

The Abortion Debate: We’re All in This Together

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Protestor pray in front of the Supreme Court during the 2011 March for Life. TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

This is a memorable week: on Monday the inauguration of President Obama on the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and today, the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. Some people will celebrate all three with thanksgiving. Others will find nothing to celebrate – especially the decision of January 22, 1973 that struck down state laws banning abortion.

Another Inaugural Address

On Sunday, there will be another inaugural address – this one by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4: 14-21). After 40 days in the wilderness facing the devil, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and went to the synagogue. He took his place at the reading desk and someone handed him the scroll of Isaiah. The text says he “found the place where it was written.” Jesus read the text, handed the scroll back to the attendant and sat down. Everyone was looking at him – all those hometown folks who knew him as a child. Then Jesus said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That must have been a shock because the Isaiah text Jesus read proclaims more than anyone could see: good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed – and the year of the Lord’s favor. The hometown folks would have recognized the year of Jubilee when debts would be cancelled, slaves set free and the land allowed to rest. Jesus was making a very big claim!

How shall we interpret what Jesus said in light of our deep divisions over abortion? Is the fetus in the womb oppressed or is the pregnant woman denied choices oppressed? Is the woman captive to laws that restrict her access not only to abortion but to contraceptives? Or is the fetus a captive threatened with death?  We have grown so accustomed to shouting slogans at one another that it has become almost impossible to have faithful conversations across our differences.

40 Years After Roe v. Wade, Abortion Roes Are Winning — And Losing

Four decades after Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, many opponents of the decision are in a celebratory mood while those backing abortion rights are glum, feeling that momentum is turning decisively against them.

Yet in reality, little has changed in the fiercest and most protracted battle of the nation’s bitter culture war.

Instead, what’s really going on is a case study in the psychology of movement politics, where activists have to rally supporters with cries of alarm without making them despair that all is lost. At the same time, they must offer evidence that their efforts are paying off without leaving them complacent.

It’s a difficult balancing act, and lately the abortion rights camp has been the one to sound the warnings.

Chastened Catholic Bishops Told They Have to Reform Themselves

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

BALTIMORE — After sweeping setbacks to the hierarchy’s agenda on Election Day, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Monday told U.S. Catholic bishops that they must now examine their own failings, confess their sins and reform themselves if they hope to impact the wider culture.

“That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a repentant heart,” Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the 250 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting.

“The premier answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization, or global warming … none of these, as significant as they are,” Dolan said, citing many of the issues that have become favorite targets of the hierarchy.

Is There a Political Plan B for the Bishops?


Bishops arrive for a meeting of Roman Catholic Church leaders at the Vatican. ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/GettyImages

As the bishops gather in Baltimore this week for their annual meeting, they like everyone else in the country will be talking about last week’s election. The U.S. Catholic bishops took a beating at the polls. Not only was President Obama reelected, despite their attacks on him, the bishops also lost on state referendums on same-sex marriage.

Like all Americans, the bishops have a constitutional right to participate in the political process. They can debate the issues, criticize candidates and publicly express their views. They can even endorse candidates as long as they don’t do it on church property and don’t use church funds in supporting a candidate or party. In fact, they can even run for president as did Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jesse Jackson. The U.S. Constitution does not forbid this; Roman Catholic canon law forbids it.

But what is constitutional is not always effective or prudent. Clearly the political strategy of the bishops is not working. A majority of Catholics voted for Obama and gay activists won every referendum. The Missouri and Indiana Republican senatorial candidates, who took the toughest positions on abortion, were also defeated when the Republicans were expected to win these races.

So where do the bishops go from here?

Religious Consistency and Hypocrisy: Election 2012

Cross image, Matt Niebuhr / Getty Images

Cross image, Matt Niebuhr / Getty Images

Most people in America, whether they are religious or not, prefer consistency in the faith community to hypocrisy. One of the reasons the fastest growing demographic in religious affiliation surveys is now “none of the above” is that too many people see more religious hypocrisy than consistency.

Religion is not, at its core, politically partisan. But too often religion becomes a political tool; and we see that on both sides of the aisle. That does not mean people of faith shouldn’t have strong convictions or feelings about political issues or shouldn’t vote one way or another; or that there is a moral equivalency between the political parties and it doesn’t matter which way we vote. Elections are important, and people of faith should be voting as citizens and by their most basic values.

But let’s be clear: On Nov. 6, neither a Republican nor Democratic victory will bring in the Kingdom of God. 

Millennials' Reflections on the New American Values Survey

Sojourners' 2012-2013 interns.

Sojourners' 2012-2013 interns.

On Tuesday, the religion, policy, and politics project at Brookings and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) hosted a forum to release PRRI's fourth American Values Survey (AVS), a large national, multi-issue survey on religion, values, and public policy.

We sent some of our interns to listen in on the findings. Here's what they thought about some of the issues raised by the report.

Values of a Public Faith (Part 2)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part two of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HEREFrom part one: 

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

6. The Poor

Value: The poor — above all those without adequate food or shelter — deserve our special concern. (“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped” [Hubert Humphrey].)

Rationale: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). “There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy” (Deut. 15:4).

Debate: There should be no debate whether fighting extreme poverty is a top priority of the government. That’s a given. We should debate the following: How should we generate a sense of solidarity with the poor among all citizens? In poverty alleviation, what is the proper role of governments and of individuals, religious communities, and civic organizations? What macroeconomic conditions most favor lifting people out of poverty? What should the minimum wage be? 

Questions to Ask: Is overcoming extreme poverty (rather than fostering the wellbeing of the middle class) a priority for the candidate? For what poverty-reducing policies is the candidate prepared to fight?


Anti-abortion Priest Frank Pavone is Back With Eyes on Obama, Bishops

Rev. Frank Pavone, RNS photo by David Gibson

Rev. Frank Pavone, RNS photo by David Gibson

NEW YORK — A year ago, the Rev. Frank Pavone was facing an existential crisis in the unlikeliest of places.

The longtime head of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life, Pavone had been confined to the Diocese of Amarillo by his bishop, Patrick J. Zurek, who sent a letter to every other U.S. bishop declaring that he had so many concerns about the group’s $10 million budget that Pavone shouldn’t be trusted with donors’ money.

Pavone’s backers were stunned, and many stopped giving, which only exacerbated the problems that helped get Priests for Life into trouble in the first place. Pavone also couldn’t go on the road to reassure funders and drum up desperately needed cash.

Instead, the New York-born priest was stuck in a convent in the Texas panhandle where he served as chaplain to an order of nuns in a place called Prayer Town, a virtual prisoner in a war of words with Zurek, who had blasted his “incorrigible defiance of my legitimate authority as his bishop.”

Young Evangelicals, Election 2012, and Common Ground

Alycia Ashburn / Sojourners

Panelists discuss the Young Evangelicals in the 2012 Election study. Alycia Ashburn / Sojourners

What culture war? At a survey release of young evangelicals and proceeding panel discussion, common ground was the pervading theme. 

While panelists ranged in religious and political backgrounds — representing groups like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, World Relief, Family Research Council, USAID, World Vision, the Manhattan Declaration, and Feed the Children — there was an overarching agreement that while young evangelicals are largely pro-life, life issues now extend to beyond the typical to things like creation care and immigration. 

“There is still a lot of tension that many young people feel in trying to identify with one political party or the other,” Adam Taylor, vice president of advocacy for World Vision. “… There is a real deep commitment to a pro-life agenda, but that agenda has now expanded and includes a core and strong commitment to addressing issues of poverty.”