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Americans Split on Abortion with Obama in Office

As the debate over abortion rights has been injected into the health care deliberations this year, more Americans say they are opposed to strong abortion rights than in previous years, making the country evenly split on the issue, according to a new poll.

Down seven points from last year, 47 percent of Americans said this summer that abortion should be legal in most cases, according to a poll (PDF) from the Pew Research Center. The poll, conducted from Aug. 11 - 27, 2009, found that 45 percent of Americans said abortion should be illegal in most cases -- an increase of four points from 2008.

The decline in support for legal abortion first became apparent in the spring of 2009, and according to Pew, that may be related to President Obama's election. Just over half of conservative Republicans polled by Pew said they worry the president will go too far in supporting abortion rights.

"No single reason for the shift in opinions is apparent, but the pattern of changes suggests that the election of a pro-choice Democrat for president may be a contributing factor," a summary of the poll says.

Even so, the poll shows a weakening level of concern about the issue of abortion among both Democrats and Republicans, though much more so among Democrats. Indeed, in the latest CBS/New York Times poll (PDF) taken this month, only 3 percent of Americans said moral issues were the most important problem facing the country today, with the vast majority of respondents saying the economy, health care or other issues were more important.

The Pew poll showed that 42 percent of Americans surveyed did not know Mr. Obama's stance on abortion rights.

While Americans today appear split on the issue, the president has sought common ground by attempting to reduce the number of abortions by addressing issues that may prompt women to terminate pregnancies. Mr. Obama describes himself as "pro-choice," but told CBS News Evening News Anchor Katie Couric that in terms of the current health care debate, he would like to preserve the tradition of not using government funds to pay for abortion services.