Roe v. Wade + 40: What, exactly, has changed?

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On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it can seem as if little has changed. The protests and counter protests are familiar sights. The talking points are old news. The signs, themselves, could be on loan from a museum: Stop Abortion Now. Keep Abortion Legal. Same as it ever was.

A†generation after the landmark Supreme Court ruling, the lines in the sand between pro-choice and pro-life camps seem as firmly drawn as ever. Hopeless, the thought of trying to spark a dialogue between groups that canít even agree on a simple definition of terms.

Life or choice? Fetus or unborn baby? These arenít distinctions that invite discussion. They divide.

So itís unsurprising that nearly half the respondents to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center said they think itís not morally acceptable to have an abortion. Fewer than one-third said they would like to see the courts overturn Roe v. Wade. Those two numbers have remained steady over the past 20 years, according to the group, but itís not a deadlock, exactly. Because what has changed in recent years is the number of people who say the issue really matters.

When Pew asked in 2006, 28 percent of respondents said abortion was a critical issue. Another 28 percent said it was important. When the group asked again this year, more than half the respondents said abortion wasnít important compared to other issues. The numbers of people who said they thought abortion is critical or important dropped by 10 and 11 percentage points, respectively.

Thereís every sign that trend is going to continue ó only a little more than one-third of respondents ages 18 to 28 told Pew they thought abortion was either critical or important. More than 60 percent didnít really care.

Thatís surprising among an age group for whom unintended pregnancy ó which account for nearly half the pregnancies in this country ó can be especially life-changing. You have to wonder if all the fiery rhetoric isnít burning young people out on the entire issue. Or if they donít have a better handle on the question.

Preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place is a whole lot less contentious, and it makes much more sense. Forty years after Roe v. Wade, maybe we can focus our efforts on that.

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