While a number of states recently have passed restrictions on abortion — including Texas, North Dakota and Arkansas — the Pew Research Center reports public opinion on abortion has remained relatively steady in the past 20 years. Its recent national survey of 1,480 adults found 54 percent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases while 40 percent say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Pew’s report says that balance has remained relatively consistent since the mid 90s. In 1995, 60 percent of Americans thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 38 percent thought it should be illegal all or most of the time. In 2001, 54 percent thought its should be legal, with 43 thinking it should be illegal. In 2007, 52 percent were pro, 42 percent against.

While national percentages have remained constant, Pew found the disparity in regional attitudes on abortion is widening. In the South Central region — including Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas — opposition to legal abortion “has significantly increased since the mid-1990s,” Pew says. Support for legal abortion remains the highest in New England, according to the report, and the gap between the two “has widened considerably over the past two decades.”

The survey asked participants if they felt abortion should be legal in all or most cases or illegal in all or most cases. The regional breakdown follows:

  • New England              20 percent illegal                  75 percent legal
  • Pacific Coast              30 percent illegal                  65 percent legal
  • Mid Atlantic                33 percent illegal                  61 percent legal
  • Mountain West           36 percent illegal                  59 percent legal
  • Great Lakes               41 percent illegal                  50 percent legal
  • South Atlantic            42 percent illegal                  50 percent legal
  • Midwest                     47 percent illegal                  47 percent legal
  • South Central            52 percent illegal                  40 percent legal

Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, 49 percent of respondents think abortion should be illegal in most cases, and 44 percent think its should be legal in most cases. In the states not limiting abortions in this way, 36 percent think it should be illegal and 58 think it should be legal.

Pew reports there are indications the regional disparity may be widening over time, as opposition in the south has strengthened. In 1995 and 1996, polls conducted by the Washington Post/ABC found an 18-percentage point gap between support and opposition in New England and the South Central regions. That difference has nearly doubled to 35 percent in the past year-and-a-half, according to Pew.

According to the study, 13 states currently ban abortions past 22 weeks of pregnancy or earlier, with Texas prohibiting them after 20 weeks and North Dakota after 6 weeks.