As the nation marks the 41st anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling this week — and huge numbers of weather-hardy pro-life activists gather in Washington for Wednesday’s annual March for Life — abortion supporters and opponents remain fully engaged on a broad number of policy and legal fronts, including whether the nation leans more pro-life or pro-choice.
According to the group National Right to Life, which issued a report Tuesday on the state of abortion in the United States, Americans mostly oppose abortion more than four decades after the landmark court ruling supposedly settled the question.
Forty-eight percent of Americans consider themselves “pro-life,” compared with 45 percent who consider themselves “pro-choice,” a Gallup poll found in May. In addition, 53 percent of Americans say abortion should be prohibited in all circumstances, or permitted only in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother, according to a survey the NRTL commissioned of 1,003 adults about a year ago.
These findings show that “the overwhelming majority of people oppose the overwhelming majority of abortions performed in the United States,” David N. O’Steen, NRTL executive director, said in a media briefing Tuesday.
However, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, sees it in exactly opposite terms: America is “a pro-choice country,” she said, citing her organization’s latest report card on women’s reproductive rights in the United States.
A majority of people — as high as 77 percent in a 2012 Gallup poll — agree that abortion should be legal at least under certain circumstances, NARAL said.
Although state lawmakers approved more than 800 pro-life measures since 1995, the politics remain scrambled. In recent months, voters in Albuquerque, N.M., rejected a measure that would have outlawed most late-term abortions, and voters in Virginia chose a slate of pro-choice Democrats, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, over pro-life Republicans for state offices.
Results like these show that state lawmakers who are conducting a war on women’s reproductive rights are “out of step” with most people on abortion, Ms. Hogue said.
As 2014 unfolds, leaders of both camps said they will be watching legislative measures that seek to add — or block — regulations of abortion clinics and abortion procedures, as well as the fight over insurance coverage of abortion in the health care system as Obamacare is implemented.
One battleground centers on whether lawmakers can block abortions of “pain-capable” fetuses. Pro-life groups say it has been virtually proved that fetuses can feel pain at around 20 weeks of pregnancy, but pro-choice groups deny such feelings are possible until closer to 29 weeks of gestation.
Several states have fetal pain laws, although some have been enjoined or overturned. The House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate with 41 sponsors.
The Senate is “difficult territory for us,” but it is heartening that 41 senators support such a national proposal and, hopefully, there will be a vote by the full Senate on the issue, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for NRTL, said Tuesday.
NARAL leaders said this month that they were going “on the offensive” by protesting restrictive abortion laws and supporting federal legislation called the Women’s Health Protection Act. The bills — introduced by Democrats Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Rep. Judy Chu of California — would overturn or block many abortion restrictions being enacted in states where Republicans are in power.
About 1.1 million abortions occur each year in the United States — significantly below the peak of about 1.6 million in 1990, according to the latest estimates from Guttmacher Institute.
In the face of a major snowstorm that hit Washington on Tuesday, organizers of the March for Life said they would not cancel the event but may adjust the speakers’ program, which is scheduled to start at noon on the Mall.
• Meredith Somers contributed to this report.