WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — As the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade approaches, 63 percent of Americans still support the ruling for a woman’s right to an abortion – but many younger people are unaware of the historic case.

A Pew Research Center survey finds that more than six-in-ten (63 percent) say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. Only about three-in-ten (29 percent) would like to see the ruling overturned.

These opinions are little changed from surveys conducted 10 and 20 years ago. However, awareness of the landmark trial’s purpose and outcome has faded in the decades since the Supreme Court made the ruling which still stands today.

Of the 1,502 respondents from all 50 states, 17 percent confused Roe v. Wade with other landmark cases on education, segregation and various other issues.

Twenty percent of those surveyed were not familiar with the case at all.

The Supreme Court issued its decision on Jan. 22, 1973, with a 7-to-2 majority vote in favor of Roe. The Court deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, thereby subjecting all laws attempting to restrict it to the standard of strict scrutiny.

Decided simultaneously with a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the Court ruled that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but that right must be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in regulating abortions – protecting the woman’s health and protecting prenatal life.

Familiarity with the case showed a large generational gap, with many younger people unaware of the case at all.

Among respondents aged 50-64, 74 percent know that Roe v. Wade deals with the topic of abortion – the highest of any age group. However, among those between the ages of 18-30, just 44 percent were aware of the ruling’s purpose.

Recent Pew studies have also shown that abortion is a less important issue than it has been in the past.

Currently, 53 percent say abortion “is not that important compared to other issues,” up from 48 percent in 2009 and 32 percent in 2006. The percentage viewing abortion as a “critical issue facing the country” fell from 28 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2009 and now stands at 18 percent.


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