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Views on Abortion Show Little Change

Americans' views on abortion have been very stable for the past fifteen years. According to a CBS News Poll conducted December 17-20, 2010, just over a third of Americans think that abortion should generally be available to those who want it. Another 40 percent think it should be available but with stricter limits than it has now, and one in five thinks it should not be permitted at all.

CBS Evening News in Focus: Abortion Debate in America Reignited

Those percentages have changed very little since the mid 1990s; prior to that, slightly more Americans thought it should be generally available.

abortion graphic for Sarah Dutton piece corrected, Jan. 28, 2011

As might be expected, there are large partisan and ideological differences in views on abortion. Roughly half of liberals and Democrats think it should be generally available, while around three in ten conservatives and Republicans think it should not be permitted. 

abortion graphic 2 for Sarah Dutton 1/27/11 piece, corrected

And historically, men and women share similar views. The December CBS News Poll is consistent with this trend: 37 percent of men, and 35 percent of women, think abortion should generally be available, while about one in five of each gender thinks it should not be allowed.

abortion graphic for Sarah Dutton piece 1/27/11, corrected

But abortion falls low on the list of top priorities facing the country. In recent years, Americans have repeatedly volunteered the economy and jobs as the most important problem facing the nation; that issue dominates others by a large margin. In a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted in January, less than one percent of Americans volunteered abortion as the most important problem facing the country.

table 4 for Sarah Dutton blog, 1/27/11

Government involvement

The new Republican-controlled House of Representatives has introduced bills that would prohibit taxpayer-funding of abortion - and most Americans would agree that the government should not be paying for or subsidizing abortions

In late 2009, prior to the passage of health care reform legislation, CBS News asked the public whether health coverage purchased with assistance from the government should cover abortion procedures. Fifty-six percent said insurance purchased with subsidies or credits from the federal government should not cover abortion procedures; just 34 percent felt such insurance should cover abortion.

Most of those who think abortion should be generally available also believe insurance purchased with assistance from the government should cover abortion. Among those who think abortion should be allowed but with greater limits, 59 percent do not think government subsidized insurance should cover abortion. That number rises to nine in 10 among those who think abortion should not be permitted at all.

And going back even further, to 1994, 53 percent told CBS News that abortion should not be part of a government health care plan.

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Correction: A labeling error has been corrected in the charts included within this post.

Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys. You can read more of her posts here.