- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

Popular support for abortion rights has dropped seven points in the past year due in part to the election of a pro-choice Democratic president, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said Thursday.

In the largest shift in sentiment since pollsters began asking about the topic in 1995, support dropped from 54 to 47 percent in one year. Opposition rose from 40 to 44 percent and the percentage of undecided rose from 6 to 9 percent.

“It’s pretty unusual,” senior Pew researcher Greg Smith said of the change in public attitudes about abortion rights. “In 2007 and 2008, supporters of abortion clearly outnumbered opponents by a 14-point margin. Now the margin is 3 percent. Basically, they are evenly divided.”

Pew’s findings square with a similar Gallup Values and Beliefs survey in May that showed more Americans consider themselves to be pro-life (51 percent) than pro-choice (42 percent).

They also square with a Pew survey released in May showing an even larger drop of 8 percentage points - 54 to 46 percent since August 2008 - of abortion rights advocates. The biggest drops in support were among white mainline Protestants and men. Approval among both groups fell by 10 percent.

Although opponents have yet to actually outnumber supporters of abortion rights, the balance of opinion has shifted dramatically across the culture and multiple religious groups ranging from Catholics to Jews, Mr. Smith said.

And the idea of a “common ground” on abortion, a key tenet of the Obama administration, is apparently not resonating with either major political parties or the religiously affiliated and non-affiliated. The most disenchanted with the idea are white evangelical Protestants, whose support for a middle ground dropped 21 percentage points (from 61 percent to 40 percent) since 2006. The one exception is Roman Catholics, whose support for common ground rose 4 points, from 63 to 67 percent.

Pew figures showed that a large number of liberals no longer consider abortion a key issue, whereas conservatives are increasingly more entrenched in their opposition to the nation’s annual total of 1.2 million abortions. Fifteen percent of all liberals consider abortion an important issue today, compared with 28 percent in 2005, the survey said.

The survey of 4,013 adults, conducted in August, is one of the first indicators of public sentiment on the Obama administration’s first nine months. It has a margin of error of 2 percent.

Pew researchers pinpointed the this past spring as the turning point of public perceptions of the issue.

“There is no one answer that explains the shift,” Mr. Smith said. “The election of a Democratic pro-choice president could be a contributing factor.”

Although survey results showed a drop in approval of legalized abortion, it also showcased a large swatch of the public that wishes the matter would be laid to rest.

In a question about President Obama’s handling of the issue, 42 percent said they didn’t know his stance on abortion, “which is consistent with the decline of the importance of this issue for a lot of people,” Mr. Smith said.

Of the remainder, 29 percent said the president is handling the issue “about right,” 19 percent worry he is supporting abortion too much, and 4 percent say he is not doing enough.

Pew found that support for abortion rights has dropped among Catholics of all stripes, with the biggest decline - 10 points - among white Catholics who attend Mass weekly.

All religious groups on the survey showed sizable drops in abortion rights support. Double-digit drops included Jews (10 percent), white mainline Protestants (10 percent) and white evangelicals who sporadically attend church (12 percent).

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