Americans, regardless of generation, are deeply conflicted as they wrestle with the legality and morality of abortion, with large numbers identifying themselves as both "pro-choice" and "pro-life," according to a sweeping new survey.
While a solid majority, 56 percent, says abortion should be legal in most or all cases, 52 percent say it is morally wrong.
The detailed and nuanced findings were released yesterday by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, based on a survey of 3,000 adults -- one of the largest ever to focus on Americans' views of abortion.
The survey devoted special attention to the views of young adults. It noted that 18-to- 29-year-olds are more likely than their elders to support same-sex marriage, but found there is no comparable generation gap regarding abortion.
Views on abortion have been stable, with 56 percent of Americans telling Gallup pollsters this year that it should be legal in most or all cases compared with 57 percent who said that in 1999. In contrast, support for same-sex marriage has surged, from 35 percent in 1999 to 53 percent in 2011, according to Pew Research Center polls.
A key factor in that discrepancy relates to attitudes of the so-called millennials between the ages of 18 and 29.
"Millennials strongly support gender equality and rights for gay and lesbian people," the survey said. "However . . . younger Americans are no more supportive of abortion rights than the general population."
For example, 57 percent of millennials favor same-sex marriage, compared with 32 percent of baby boomers aged 50 to 64. Yet when asked about abortion, support for legal abortions was virtually the same -- 60 percent among millennials, 59 percent among boomers.
Ambivalence was reflected in other responses from millennials: 68 percent said legal abortions should be available from health professionals in their community, while only 46 percent said having an abortion is morally acceptable.
The survey was based on telephone interviews between April 22 and May 8 among a random sample of 3,000 adults in the continental United States, including 750 interviewed on cellphones. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points, and higher for subgroups.