US President Barack Obama on Thursday backed a woman's "right to choose" on the 36th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court decision that gave women a constitutional right to abortion.
"On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters," Obama said in a written statement.
"I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose."
The 1973 Supreme Court decision, enshrined as "Roe v. Wade" for the key figures in the case, gave the United States some of the least restrictive abortion laws in the world.
Roe v Wade galvanized conservative religious groups against abortion and made it a hot-button political issue, even though surveys have shown that more Americans are pro-choice, in favor of a woman's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, than pro-life, or against abortion.
Even a survey conducted last year by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) showed that only 11 percent of Americans favored a total ban on abortion.
Obama's statement was "like a breath of fresh air for those of us who've been locked in the abortion wars for so long," Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, told AFP.
"This represents a new way of thinking that will serve women a lot better in the future, while protecting the rights that were established by Roe v Wade," he said.
In his statement, Obama spoke of the need for "affordable contraception, accurate health information and preventive services" in order to "prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion and support women and families in the choices they make."
No one was available for comment at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops or at the pro-life American Life League (ALL), which in a statement issued last week slammed Obama's "radical support for abortion on demand."
"Obama promises to be the most virulently pro-abortion president in history. Millions more children will be endangered by his radical abortion agenda," the ALL statement said.