American society is increasingly divided on the issue of abortion, not just across party lines but within political and religious groups. White evangelicals strongly oppose it, while most religious 'nones' say it should be legal.
The partisan polarisation on the abortion is far higher than it was 20 years ago, according to research published last week by Pew Research Centre.
Christian religious groups vary in their attitudes to the issue. Although the Roman Catholic Church is staunchly pro-life, 53 per cent of US Catholics say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 44 per cent saying it should be illegal.
The official group most supportive of abortion was white mainline Protestants, 67 per cent of which said abortion should be legal in at least most cases, just 30 per cent said the opposite. Among black Protestants, 55 per cent were for legal abortion while 41 per cent were against. The most opposed to abortion being legal in most cases were white evangelicals at 70 per cent, only 29 per cent of the group support its legalisation.
However, unaffiliated Christians – the religious 'nones' – show overwhelming support for legalised abortion, with eight in ten backing it, and just 17 per cent opposing it.
Republicans as a party are more opposed to abortion than they used to be. By 65 - 34 per cent they now say it should be illegal, while in 1995 the figure was more balanced, with 49 per cent supporting its legalisation and 48 per cent against. However, most moderates and liberals (54 per cent) within the party support legalisation, while only 27 per cent of conservatives said the same.
Democrats have been consistently pro-choice, but still show some internal tension – 75 per cent said it should be legal in at least most cases. Among conservative and moderate Democrats, just 61 per cent said the same compared to 91 per cent of liberals.
Across the US, the study found minimal gender differences in attitudes to abortion – the majority of men (55 per cent) and women (59 per cent) say it should be legal in at least most cases.