American and Canadian Views on Abortion

by Josephine Mazzuca, PhD
Senior Staff Writer, Toronto Bureau

Abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in politics in both Canada and the United States -- but overall views regarding its morality are not identical between the two populations. A slight majority of U.S. residents (53%) believe that abortion is morally wrong, while more than a third (38%) say it is morally acceptable. In Canada, the reverse is true: a majority of residents (57%) believe that abortion is morally acceptable, and four out of 10 (40%) believe it is morally wrong.

Regional Differences

Regionally in the United States, Western residents are most accepting of abortion; in fact, it is the only U.S. region in which more respondents believe abortion is morally acceptable (48%) than believe it is morally wrong (42%). Residents of the Southern United States are least likely to view abortion as morally acceptable at 30%, while double that number (61%) believe it is morally wrong.

Interestingly, the Canadian province of Quebec has the highest percentage of people nationwide who say that abortions are morally acceptable. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of residents in this traditionally Roman Catholic province report that they believe abortion to be morally acceptable. This number has increased over the past several years, indicating a move toward more liberal views in Quebec that isn't apparent in other regions of the country.

Religious Affiliation and Abortion

In the United States, similar percentages of Protestants (55%) and Catholics (54%) believe that abortion is morally wrong. These percentages are similar to the percentage of the overall population (53%) who believes the same.

In Canada, Roman Catholics (46%) are more likely than Protestants (41%) and the general population (40%) to believe that abortion is morally wrong. Yet more than half of Protestant (56%) and Catholic (51%) Canadians believe abortion is morally acceptable. In both countries, religious affiliation, whether Protestant or Catholic, does not appear to have an overwhelming influence on one's views regarding the morality of abortion.

Communities and Views on Abortion

In the United States, American urban and suburban dwellers are significantly more likely to believe that abortions are morally acceptable (44% and 40%, respectively) than are their rural counterparts (29%), a majority of whom believe abortion is morally wrong (59%). In Canada's three largest urban areas, the views of city inhabitants are similar to the views held by those who live elsewhere in their respective provinces. It would appear that the tendency of rural Americas to have more traditional views on abortion than suburban and urban residents does not hold true in Canada.

Key Points

Abortion laws in both the United States and Canada make it legally acceptable for a woman to end an unwanted pregnancy regardless of her reasons for doing so. But according to public opinion, the morality of such a decision is not clear-cut. While Americans are more likely than Canadians to believe that abortion is morally wrong, substantial numbers of residents from both countries hold this view. The issue of abortion elicits strong emotions both for and against; poll results indicate that few people sit on the fence. In fact, only 8% of respondents volunteered an unsolicited response of "it depends on the situation" in the United States and only 4% of Canadian respondents either said they didn't know or refused to answer. Legal issues aside, abortion clearly remains an issue for which moral common ground is difficult to find in either country.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 6-9, 2002. For results based on the total sample of U.S. adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 Canadian adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 21-27, 2002. For results based on the total sample of Canadian adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 %.

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