WASHINGTON A record low 41 percent of Americans call themselves 'pro choice' on abortion, with the number sliding among independent voters, a key political group, a Gallup poll released on Wednesday showed.
The results of the May poll come as abortion and contraception supporters have come under increasing pressure in Congress and across the United States.
"Pro choice" is a label for people who favor the right of women to choose whether to bring a pregnancy to term. "Pro life" is a label for those who back legal protection for human fetuses, including outlawing abortion.
The pro choice figure in the May poll is 1 percentage point below the previous low of 42 percent in May 2009. It is down from 47 percent in July 2011, Gallup said in a statement.
Fifty percent of those surveyed described themselves as 'pro life.' That is 1 percentage point short of the record high, also in May 2009, it said.
"It remains to be seen whether the pro-life spike found this month proves temporary, as it did in 2009, or is sustained for some period," Gallup said.
Among political groups, the percentage of independents identifying themselves as pro choice is at 41 percent, 10 points lower than in May 2011. The pro-life percentage is up by 6 points.
"As a result, pro-lifers now outnumber pro-choicers among this important swing political group for only the second time since 2001, with the first occurring in 2009," Gallup said.
The November election between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the likely Republican candidate, could well hinge on undecided, independent voters in fewer than a dozen states.
Among Republicans, 71 percent identify themselves as pro life and 22 percent as pro choice. About 60 percent of Democrats call themselves pro choice and about a third pro life.
LEGAL IN SOME CASES
But even as fewer Americans call themselves pro choice, they are unchanged on when abortion should be legal. Fifty-two percent say abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, about the same as a year ago.
The 25 percent who want abortion to be legal in all cases and the 20 percent in favor of making it always illegal are similar to last year's findings.
The abortion issue has made headlines in the past year as Congress tried to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood because of its abortion services and to investigate the group's financial practices.
The administration of President Barack Obama and the Catholic Church also have clashed over mandated health insurance for contraception.
A number of states have moved to restrict abortion. For example, the Republican governor of Mississippi signed legislation last month that could force the state's only abortion clinic to close.
The poll was based on May 3-6 telephone interviews of 1,204 adults in all U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)