Poll Shows Support for Abortion Rights

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A majority of Americans say President Bush's next choice for an opening on the Supreme Court should be willing to uphold the landmark court decision protecting abortion rights (search), an Associated Press poll found.

The poll found that 59 percent say Bush should choose a nominee who would uphold the 1973 Roe v. Wade (search) decision that legalized abortion. About three in 10, 31 percent, said they want a nominee who would overturn the decision, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

"While I don't have a strong feeling about abortions personally, I wouldn't want the law overturned and return to the days of backdoor abortions," said Colleen Dunn, 40, a Republican and community college teacher who lives outside Philadelphia.

The preference for Supreme Court nominees who would uphold Roe v. Wade could be found among both men and women, most age groups, most income groups and people living in urban, suburban and rural areas. Fewer than half of Republicans, evangelicals and those over 65 said they favored a nominee who would uphold the abortion ruling.

Bush has sidestepped questions about whom he would name to an opening, but has indicated he would pick judges like those he picked in his first term — often young and conservative.

While the public is generally divided on the abortion issue, polling consistently has found a clear majority of people who think abortion should be legal in at least some cases.

While there are no current openings on the high court, only one of the nine justices, Clarence Thomas (search), is under 65 and Chief Justice William Rehnquist (search), 80, has thyroid cancer.

The AP-Ipsos poll found that six in 10 think justices should face a mandatory retirement age.

The appointment of justices without term limits or a mandatory retirement age historically has helped to insulate the court from politics, said Dennis Hutchinson of the University of Chicago Law School. At the same time, that can have the unintended consequence of letting some justices serve beyond their most effective years.

The poll question mentioned no specific retirement age. Appointment of Supreme Court justices for life is dictated by the Constitution and could be changed only by an amendment.

People over 65 were among those most likely to favor mandatory retirement, according to the poll.

"The justices hold office year after year," said Opal Bristow, an 84-year-old Democrat and retired teacher who lives near San Antonio. "Some of them are old codgers who need to get out of the way and let the younger folks with fresh ideas come in."

Most of those who have taken a position on whether a nominee should uphold or overturn Roe v. Wade say they wanted a nominee to state his or her position on abortion before confirmation. Nearly two-thirds of each group said they would want to know.

The survey found that 61 percent of all respondents said Supreme Court nominees should state their position on abortion before being approved for the job.

"In a perfect world they wouldn't have to talk about it," said Kenneth Cole, 39, a consultant from Columbus, Ohio, and a Republican who leans toward wanting Roe v. Wade overturned. "But whoever President Bush nominates, people will know where they stand. They won't be able to avoid the issue."

Another issue the Supreme Court will have to deal with at some point is homosexual marriage.

By 61 percent to 35 percent, people opposed gay marriage, with young adults between 18 and 29 about evenly split. Recent polls have indicated people are about evenly divided on the question of civil unions, which would provide many of the same legal protections as gay marriage.

The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults was taken Nov. 19-21 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.