Next week marks the 40 year anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which guarantees women the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion services. However, as the nation moves further away from past decades when women weren’t assured that reproductive freedom, fewer numbers of Americans can identify what Roe means — particularly the Americans who have never known a time without it.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that, although 62 percent of Americans do know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion rights rather than some other issue like school desegregation or the death penalty, there are big variations among age groups. In fact, just 44 percent of the Americans under 30 years old can correctly identify the nature of the Supreme Court decision, a sharp decline from older U.S. citizens:
A majority of Americans in that age group, 62 percent, also report that they don’t consider abortion to be a critical issue facing the country — although nearly 70 percent of Americans under 30 don’t want the court to overturn Roe.
Young Americans have never lived in the U.S. during a time when women were forced to risk their lives to terminate a pregnancy, as women in some other countries around the world are still forced to do. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that unsafe abortions across the globe contribute to 47,000 preventable deaths each year, simply because women lack the access to the fundamental reproductive services they need. However, as anti-choice lawmakers slowly chip away at abortion rights on a state level, despite the endurance of Roe v. Wade, younger Americans may shift to prioritizing the politics of reproductive freedom more than they say they do now.