By Dave Andrusko
I have only had time to go through “Committed to Availability, Conflicted on Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells us about the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars” once. But we need to comment because some of the conclusions that are highlighted in media reports either are highly misleading or miss the boat. Suffice it to say upfront that a majority of Millennials say abortion is morally wrong and support a number of abortion limitations.
If personnel is politics [meaning whom a politician hires is crucial], so, too, are the people who do surveys to its outcome. One of the three authors is Rachel Laser, who is typically described as working for the “centrist group Third Way and is an advocate for abortion reduction…”
But what is Third Way? It’s a liberal think tank… where veteran pro-abortion activists develop ‘messaging’ strategies to help pro-abortion politicians camouflage their positions,” explains NRLC’s Douglas Johnson.
Who is Rachel Laser? “She’s a veteran pro-abortion lobbyist, whose previous job was with the Health and Reproductive Rights group at the National Women’s Law Center, and who before that worked for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, a major abortion provider,” added Johnson. Laser directs the “The third way ‘Culture Program’ (responsible for the ‘abortion reduction’ strategy, among other projects) which in the report is hilariously described as a “pro-life, pro-choice abortion bill in Congress.”
The 46-page report was produced by the Public Religion Research Institute with funding assistance from the Ford Foundation, arguable the most pro-abortion foundation in the known galaxy.
Okay, what are the conclusions that jump out at you even with reading most of the report only once?
1. The wording of the question on the basic legality dictates that in the population as a whole, “a solid majority” will come to the preferred conclusion. A combined 51% say abortion should be legal in all cases (19%) or most cases (37%). A total of 40% say abortion should be illegal in all cases (14%) or most cases (26%). The numbers for Millennials are almost identical.
But as we have pointed out several times in the last week, when more discerning questions are asked (what does “most” mean?), you discover that, in fact, “61% now preferring that abortion be legal in only a few circumstances or no circumstances,” according to Lynda Saad of Gallup. “Only 37% want abortion legal in all or most circumstances.”
And, even more intriguing, the authors concede that “Millennials are less supportive of legal abortion than their demographic profile would suggest” (meaning, for example, they are less religious). As they mature, typically they take their faith more seriously which is strongly associated with a heightened respect for life.
2. We read, “The binary ‘pro-choice’/’pro-life’ labels do not reflect the complexity of Americans’ views on abortion.” In many ways this illustrates how slippery the entire enterprise is. If you ask most people whether either label “describes them at least somewhat well” [my emphasis], most people will yes and yes. When you ask people to choose one or the other, sometimes there are more self-identified “pro-choicers” than “pro-lifers,” and vice versa.
But the more interesting finding is that overwhelmingly respondents agreed that is more socially acceptable to be pro-choice (53%) than pro-life (32%). The only fair conclusion to draw is that if neither were more socially acceptable, the % self-identifying as pro-life would be higher.
Having said that, what is buried in the numbers?
1. While the economic is more often described as a critical issue, 29% say abortion is a critical issue and another 29% said it is one among many important issues. That’s not insignificant. How “salient” is the issue? ”Those who opposed legal abortion are more than three times as likely as those who support legal abortion to say it is a critical issue.” Moreover 2/3rds (65%) of those who say abortion should always be illegal say abortion is a crucial issue in contrast to 19% of those who say abortion should legal in all cases. Huge intensity/single issue difference. Unfortunately, the breakout for the Millennials was not included.
2. Prior to the quantitative survey, Public Religion Research Institute conducted four focus groups with “politically moderate 18-29 year olds.” They asked them to say the first word that came to mind when they heard the term “abortion.’ The results were overwhelming. 54% of the words “are negative and more associated with opposing legal abortion.” Those included “death” killing” and ‘sad.” Only 16% of the responses “are more associated with affirming legal abortion.” But if you look at the actual list, there are much more personal comments such as “disgusting,” “scary,” “killing an innocent life,” and “young mothers.”
3. Millennials overwhelmingly support parental consent (71%).
4. There is a quirky section about “influences,” which I will return to next week. Clearly the authors’ goal is to minimize the impact of seeing an ultrasound. But in the end, “[W]hen we applied other demographic controls in order to understand the isolated effect of seeing an ultrasound image, we find a modest but significant negative impact on support for legal abortion. In other words, Americans who have recently seen an ultrasound are less likely to say abortion should be legal in all or most cases than those who have not.”
One other important dimension which takes us back to the circumstances under which people “support” abortion. They ask further questions to obtain a “more nuanced understanding of American views about the permissibility of abortion and specific circumstances.” They offer five situations—from the toughest (rape) to not being married.
Surprise, surprise they found that 28% held “mixed” views. Which brings me back to my previous point. There are far more instances in which a woman “is not married and does not want to marry the man” than there are babies with a “strong chanced of serious defect.” There is, unfortunately, strong support for the latter but 39% for the former.
Which is why, to quote Gallup again, “61% now preferring that abortion be legal in only a few circumstances or no circumstances.”
I’ll return to this report next week; there’s a lot there and its conclusions will be used and misused in the months to come. The important thing to remember is that young people are pro-life, especially the 18-25 year olds, and growing more so.