Hardball with Chris Matthews, 1/22/13, 7:00 PM ET

The debate over Roe v. Wade, 40 years later

Chris Matthews talks to Terry O’Neill, president of NOW, and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, about the 40th anniversary of Roe v....

4 decades after Roe vs. Wade, majority in U.S. want abortion to be legal

Updated

After four decades as the law of the land, Roe v. Wade is now on the good side of a majority of Americans.

For the first time, most Americans—54%—believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a new poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, 44% said abortion should be illegal, either with or without exceptions.

Seven out of 10 Americans back the historic 1973 ruling, which made abortion legal in the United States. Just 24% of Americans want to overturn the decision.

While just 9% of those surveyed said abortion should always be illegal, 35% said there should be exceptions when pregnancy results from incest or if the life of the mother is in danger.

Despite the view that Americans’ attitudes on abortion have changed, pro-life activists and legislators have been pushing to curb abortion rights.

The Guttmacher Institute released a report earlier this month showing that 43 laws were passed in 19 states last year to restrict access to abortion. That’s the second highest number of measures passed in a single year, behind only 2011.

In at least nine states, women are required to get an ultrasound when they are seeking an abortion. And in four states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi and Arkansas), there’s only one abortion clinic available. In 87% of counties in the U.S., it’s not possible to get an abortion at all, according to Guttamacher.

“Legislators who continue to interfere with a woman’s access to safe and legal abortions do so against the will of their constituents,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

Stephanie Schriock, president of women’s advocacy group EMILY’s List, pointed to last year’s election—in which Republicans like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, who made controversial remarks about rape and pregnancy, got steamrolled.

Schriock said it showed just “how strongly voters support candidates who will continue to stand for women’s rights and progress.”

Meanwhile, pro-life supporters are commemorating Roe vs. Wade by hosting rallies throughout the country. The Pro-Life Action League has set up 265 memorial sites in 41 states to honor what they see as the more than 50 million babies who died from abortion since the Supreme Court’s decision.

4 decades after Roe vs. Wade, majority in U.S. want abortion to be legal

Updated