Last Thursday in The Federalist, Chris Humphrey continued our discussion about the factors behind the 50 percent decline in the U.S. abortion rate since 1980. Humphrey continues to argue that the increase in the number of pregnancy help centers provides the best explanation for the long-term decline in the U.S. abortion rate. He also argues there has not been a significant shift in public attitudes toward abortion.
However, I argue that a closer examination of public opinion data indicates there has been a shift in abortion attitudes, especially among young people. Furthermore, pro-life efforts to change hearts and minds will continue to be an important pro-life objective for a variety of reasons, including helping pregnancy help centers accomplish their lifesaving missions.
As I said in my previous Federalist article, public opinion on sanctity of life issues is nuanced and can be analyzed in different ways. That said, I want to emphasize a few points here.
First, the General Social Survey (GSS) provides the best long-term data on abortion attitudes. They have been asking the same six questions on abortion since the early 1970s. These questions include hard cases, such as whether abortion should be a legal option when the pregnancy results from a rape. They also include cases where more people would feel comfortable restricting abortion, such as where the woman is married and does not want additional children. The GSS collects a great deal of demographic data from respondents and is the dataset most frequently used by public opinion scholars.
Interestingly, for each of the six General Social Survey questions, public attitudes have shifted in a more pro-life direction since the mid ’90s. Humphrey downplays the shift in attitudes among young adults saying that “the change is very slight.” However, the fact that young adults ages 18 to 29 went from the age demographic most sympathetic to abortion in the ’70s to the age demographic least sympathetic in the aughts is certainly evidence of an important shift in public attitudes.
It is also a question that has engaged prominent public opinion researchers. Many are puzzled by this shift in abortion opinion among young people. The best predictors of pro-life sentiment are religiosity and conservative views on sexual issues. However, the current generation of young adults is not particularly religious and tends to have fairly liberal attitudes toward premarital sex.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael J. New