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.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • 99 Problems (JAY-Z)

    Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, <a href="" target="_hplink">said on Sunday</a> that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."

  • Talk (Coldplay)

    The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, <a href="" target="_hplink">called the equal pay issue</a> "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."

  • Just My Imagination (The Temptations)

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, <a href="" target="_hplink">delivered a floor speech</a> in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.

  • Butterfly Fly Away (Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus)

    Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus <a href="" target="_hplink">said in an April interview</a> on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."

  • Distraction (Angels And Airwaves)

    Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.

  • We Don't Care (Kanye West)

    South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."