Startling new polls and studies indicate public support for legalized abortion is at an all-time high and that women will still seek abortions even if the landmark Roe v. Wade decision were to be overturned.
The sentiments come despite a move by a growing number of states to put more restrictions on abortion.
Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the first time a majority of Americans, seven out of 10, oppose overturning the historic Supreme Court ruling, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reveals.
The poll of 1,000 adults conducted last week also found 54 percent think abortion should be legal.
The shift in society's attitude has been the most notable in the last decade, the NBC/Journal poll indicates.
The number of people who supported the Roe decision hovered around 60 percent until 2002, when it rose to 65 percent. Another jump came between 2005 and 2013. Now, 70 percent of Americans do not want to see the 1973 landmark decision overturned by the Supreme Court.
Leading the change, the poll shows, are African Americans, Latinos, and women without college degrees.
“These are profound changes,” said GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll along with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.
Another poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life confirms that a majority of Americans are opposed to completely overturning Roe v. Wade.
Some 63 percent say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the 1973 decision, which recognizes a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion. Only 29 percent want to see the ruling overturned.
However, the public continues to be divided over whether it is morally acceptable to have an abortion, the Pew poll found.
Some 47 percent believe it is morally wrong to have an abortion, while just 13 percent find this morally acceptable. Another 27 percent say it is not a moral issue and 9 percent say it depends on the situation.
Meanwhile, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that women would be willing to travel hundreds of miles to obtain abortions even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
“The vast majority of women in states without legal abortion would access services in states where abortion remained accessible,” wrote Theodore Joyce, the report’s lead author.
The likelihood a woman will seek an abortion even if she doesn’t live in an area where the service is available may come down to whether she can afford to travel, secure child care, and take time off work, Joyce added.
Soon after the 1973 ruling, abortion providers appeared in all 50 states, with the number peaking at 2,908 in 1982, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which compiles reproductive health data. By 2008, the most recent figures available, the number had fallen 38 percent to 1,793.
Despite the findings of the polls and study, more states have acted to make abortion more difficult for a woman to end a pregnancy. Louisiana, for example, has banned the procedure after 20 weeks. Other state measures range from requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges to mandatory waiting periods and parent notification for minors.
McInturff, however, attributes the growing support for abortion rights in part to the emotionally charged comments on rape and abortion made by GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin of Missouri and Indiana's Richard Mourdock. Both lost their races.
“The dialogue we have had in the last year has contributed . . . to inform and shift attitudes,” he said.
The latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control Data show a decline in both the total number and rate of reported abortions and the ratio of abortions to live births.
In 2009, the government recorded 784,507 legal induced abortions. The rate was 15.1 abortions per 1,000 women and the ratio was 227 abortions per 1,000 live births. From 2000, the number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions decreased 6 percent, 7 percent, and 8 percent, respectively.
Since the 2011 legislative sessions, however, states have put 135 restrictions in place, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank on sexual and reproductive health. Last year, 19 states put 43 restrictions in place — the second highest number since 1985, the institute's website said.
Virginia passed a measure that requires a woman to have an ultrasound before she can get an abortion and Mississippi decided doctors at its sole abortion clinic must have hospital admitting privileges. So far, the clinic has not complied with the new law and could be shut down, which would make the state the first where a woman could not get an abortion.
"The laws that have been passed, in the last couple of years especially, really make women walk through a gauntlet to get abortions, throughout the country," Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero told NBC News.
Federal law prohibits taxpayer dollars from paying for abortions except in rare circumstances, but anti-abortion activists point out that government funding of Planned Parenthood for other reproductive health services, such as gynecological exams, frees up the non-profit's private monies for abortions.
"A majority of Americans do not want their tax dollars being used to fund abortions," Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List, told NBC.
An effort is underway by the Susan B. Anthony List to get the federal government to cut public support to the women's health group and nine states — Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin — have already slashed their Planned Parenthood budgets.
Planned Parenthood is fighting back, both in the courts and through lobbying.
"What we've seen over the last two years is the public doesn’t want these preventive health services to be defunded and the courts won’t allow it," Ferrero said.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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