Forty years after Roe v. Wade, a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a new poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. A majority also do not want to see the Supreme Court's landmark decision -- which on Jan. 22, 1973, established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy -- overturned.

Of the 1,000 adults surveyed in the NBC/WSJ poll, 54 percent said that abortion should be legal either "always" or "most of the time;" conversely, 44 percent said that it should be illegal either with (rape, incest, health risk to the mother) or without exceptions. (Two percent of respondents were unsure.)

"That’s the first time since this poll question was first asked in 2003 that a majority maintained that abortion should be legal," NBC's Mark Murray writes. "Previously (with just one exception in 2008), majorities said abortion should be illegal."

(In 2008, 49 percent of respondents said that abortion should be legal always or most of the time, while 47 percent said it should be illegal with or without exceptions.)

Moreover, in the latest survey, conducted last week, 70 percent of respondents said Roe v. Wade should be upheld. This figure, says Murray, is the "highest percentage on this question since 1989."

“These are profound changes,” Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and others, told NBC News. McInturff added that "abortion-related events and rhetoric over the past year -- which included controversial remarks on abortion and rape by two Republican Senate candidates, as well as a highly charged debate over contraception -- helped shaped these changing poll numbers."

The results of the NBC/WSJ poll are similar to those of another survey -- also conducted this month -- about Roe v. Wade that was spearheaded by the Pew Research Center.

According to the Pew survey, 63 percent of the 1,502 adults polled did not want to see the 1973 ruling overturned completely.

However, pollsters pointed out that there continue to be "substantial religious and partisan differences over whether to overturn Roe v. Wade," with white evangelical Protestants representing the "only major religious group in which a majority (54 percent) favors completely overturning" the decision. According to survey results, 73 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe that having an abortion is "morally wrong."

This particular demographic is not alone in its views of abortion and personal morality, however. Of all those polled, nearly half (47 percent) said they personally believe that it is morally wrong to have an abortion.

Interestingly, the Pew poll also revealed that while a majority of those aged 30 or older knew that Roe v. Wade case dealt with abortion, less than half of those between the ages of 18 and 29 could correctly identify the case.

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