WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Sunday marked the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion by affirming his backing for the right, for decades one of America's most polarizing issues.
"As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman's health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters," Obama said in his statement.
"I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right," the president said.
Abortion is invariably a bitterly debated issue every presidential election year, with conservatives eager to repeal the landmark decision and liberals insisting abortion is a fundamental right to be protected at all costs.
The president's statement that he is dedicated to American women's continued right to terminate an unwanted or medically risky pregnancy seemed destined to win the approval of his core Democratic supporters and socially liberal independents seen as key to his 2012 reelection prospects.
But his statement also acknowledged the "sensitive and often divisive" nature of the abortion debate in the United States.
"We must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption," Obama said.
Last month, women's health advocates said they would sue the US government for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of young teenage girls by denying them over-the-counter access to emergency contraception.
The US secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, stepped in to bar girls under the age of 17 from getting the morning-after pill without a prescription. Obama angered some in his liberal base by backing the decision.
Pro-choice and anti-abortion protests and rallies were expected across the United States, including a huge planned rally Monday at the Supreme Court.