Americans are split over abortion but oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Support for stem cell research is growing. And for the first time a majority believe gays should be able to enter into civil unions that give them the same legal rights as marriage.

Those are among findings in a survey last week by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on issues facing the Supreme Court.

Based on two separate polls in July, before President Bush nominated federal judge John Roberts to a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, the study found that Americans hold varying and sometimes contradictory positions on issues identified with the so-called “culture of life.”

Seventy percent said abortion in morally wrong, and 59 percent said it would be a good thing to reduce the number of abortions. A majority would support restricting access to abortions, and 73 percent favor requiring women under 18 to get parental consent before seeking an abortion.

Yet 65 percent say the Supreme Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing a woman’s right to abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy.

While 63 percent said court decisions on abortion are very important to them, nearly as many, 62 percent, said the same thing about the rights of people held in custody as terrorist suspects.

“This important question of the trade-off of civil liberties and protection is one the public takes very seriously,” Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center said, quoted by the Associated Press. “The public has been reminded recently of the ongoing threat of terrorism and what we should or should not have to sacrifice for our safety.”

Support for stem cell research continues to grow but appears to be leveling off after gaining significantly from 2002 to 2004. Americans say nearly 2-1 it is more important to conduct stem cell research that might result in new medical cures (57 percent) than to avoid destroying the potential life of human embryos involved in such research (30 percent.)

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist recently made headlines when he broke with President Bush and the religious right, saying he supports federal funding for medical research using donated frozen embryos created but unused in fertility treatments.

Another issue credited with mobilizing religious conservatives to turn out for the 2004 election is opposition to gay marriage.

According to the new survey, more than half (53 percent) of Americans oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, but 53 percent now support allowing gay couples to enter into legal agreements with each other that would give them many of the same rights as married couples. Last year, only 49 percent favored civil unions for gays.

Other issues in the survey include:

–Death penalty. Sixty-eight percent favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, but only 37 percent support executing minors under 18.

–Euthanasia. A narrow majority of Americans (51 percent) favor making it legal for doctors to give terminally ill patients the means to end their lives, but just 44 percent believe physicians should actually aid patients in committing suicide.

Four months after Congress passed legislation transferring jurisdiction in the Terri Schiavo case to the federal courts, an overwhelming majority (74 percent) said Congress should not have involved itself in the matter. Just one in five (20 percent) believe Congress did the right thing.

–Reproductive issues. More than half (52 percent) support allowing women to get the so-called “morning after pill,” which prevents pregnancy, without a prescription. Three fourths (76 percent) believe public schools should teach teenagers to abstain from sex until marriage, but 78 percent said schools should also be allowed to provide students with information on methods of birth control.

–Religious affiliation. Four Americans in five (81 percent) list their religious preference as Christian, and 41 percent claim to attend religious services once a week or more. Half (50 percent) are Protestant, 22 percent Roman Catholic and 19 percent Baptist.

Thirty-six percent of Christians describe themselves as “born again,” while 40 percent do not. Thirty-six percent also feel the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word-for-word, while 40 percent say the Bible is the word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally.

Eighteen percent, 5 percent more than in March 2004, said the Bible “is a book written by men and is not the word of God.”

Sixty percent of Americans say their faith is very important to them.

The poll of 1,502 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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