The Kids Don't Know What Roe v. Wade Was, and Other Abortion Facts

Decades after the landmark decision, here's a roundup of numbers on Americans' abortion attitudes.

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As of Wednesday, it has been 41 years since the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized first-trimester abortions nationwide. Every year, activists on both sides of the debate gather for events commemorating what they see as either a milestone for women's rights or a travesty of justice. To mark the occasion, Data Mine has rounded up some basic statistics on abortion in the United States:

Youngsters Need a Judicial History Refresher ...

Only 44 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds could correctly identify abortion as the issue with which Roe v. Wade dealt, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. Another one-third guessed incorrectly, and 24 percent said they didn't know.

[READ: Abortion Restrictions Shutter Clinics, Hurt Poor, Groups Say]

Reprinted with permission of the Pew Research Center, “Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision” © 2013

Comparatively, 62 percent of the broader American public answered the question correctly. The group most likely to answer correctly was the 50- to 64-year-old cohort, whose members were school-aged at the time of the decision.

... And a Majority of Americans Don't Care Much About Abortion

Despite fervent activism on both sides of the debate, not to mention many political gaffes on the subject of abortion, the broader American public still doesn't tend to see abortion as an important issue, according to the same 2013 Pew study.

Reprinted with permission of the Pew Research Center, “Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision” © 2013

A majority – 53 percent – said abortion was "not that important" of an issue, with men and women alike agreeing in roughly the same proportion. A large divide, however, occurred between people who would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and those who would not. Those in favor of overturning the ruling were far more likely to see abortion as a "critical issue."

[ALSO: Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Arizona Abortion Appeal]

The Public Used to Be More Pro-Choice

When asked whether they identify with the common terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice," the American public's identifications have moved considerably over time. In 1995, more than 50 percent of Americans considered themselves pro-choice, and only one-third said they were pro-life, according to Gallup.

Source: Gallup

The two shares converged decisively in the late 2000s, and today the split is much more even: 45 percent of people are pro-choice, compared to 48 percent who are pro-life.

Then Again, a Majority Thinks Some Abortion Should be Legal

Labels are one thing, but beliefs appear to be another. While more Americans would call themselves "pro-life" than "pro-choice," a majority does think abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy.

Source: Gallup

However, that share drops dramatically for abortions in the second and third trimesters. Only 27 and 14 percent of people, respectively, believe abortion should be legal at those times.

[OPINION: Texas Life Support Case Puts Dignified Death at Risk]

A Substantial Share of Abortion Patients Are Already Mothers

The most recent data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention show that as of 2010, 40.3 percent of reported abortions were performed on women who had not yet had children. More than a quarter had one child already, and another one-fifth had two children already.

Source: CDC

Though these data were only reported for 39 states, they suggest that a substantial portion of abortion patients, and perhaps even a majority, already have children.

Poor Women Are Disproportionately Represented Among Abortion Patients

As of 2008, more than four in 10 women who had abortions were living below the poverty line, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights advocacy organization. That's compared to the national poverty rate that year of 13.2 percent. Even among families headed by single women, which tend to have very high poverty rates, only 31.4 percent were below the poverty line that year. For a couple under age 65, the poverty threshold in 2008 was about $15,600 in 2013 dollars.

Source: Guttmacher Institute

The institute also reports that money is one key reason why many women seek to terminate pregnancies. Nearly three-quarters – 73 percent – of women said the inability to afford a baby was one of the key reasons driving their decision to get an abortion.

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