By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. This first ran back in 2006 but its conclusions remain valid and supplement what we wrote about today at “Debunking the stereotypes about abortion.”
“Polls had shown that high school students are typically liberal on public issues. When they answered our most general questions on the issue, high school seniors appeared supportive of abortion rights. Sixty-two percent of seniors told us that they want the Supreme Court to preserve the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to abortion. About half described themselves as ‘pro-choice’ and said they believe that abortion should be legal in ‘all’ or ‘most’ cases. But their answers to more detailed questions reveal that the great majority of seniors would significantly restrict access to abortion. For example, two thirds of high school seniors would require parental permission before a woman under the age of 18 could legally obtain an abortion.” — Professor Dennis Gilbert, analyzing “Hamilton College Hot Button Issues Poll,” as it relates to abortion.
Hmmm. You ask people, in this case 1,000 high school seniors, more specific questions about abortion and you find out that they “would significantly restrict access to abortion.” Who’d thunk. [Well, actually anyone who has followed polls on abortion for the past 33 years would, as we’ll discuss in a moment.]
Gilbert, a sociology professor at Hamilton College, sees this “inconsistent conservative leaning pattern we have found in the Class of 2006” mirroring what polls have found in the responses of adults. In adults there is, supposedly, a 60% majority that would not want Roe overturned.
“But,” Gilbert informs us, “the majority also regards abortion as morally wrong and would not concede a woman’s legal right to abortion except in extreme circumstances, such as rape or significant threat to the health of the mother.” However, this is not inconsistency, it is a lack of information, cultivated by a lazy media.
Anyone who looks carefully at the polling data would know that “support” for Roe melts away when you ask Americans of any age whether they support abortion in specific instances. The conclusion is unwavering, and has been for a long time: a majority of Americans resists the reasons for which 90-95% of all abortions are performed.
You can read Gilbert’s full analysis here.
Let me summarize a few of the key findings and conclusions of “The eighth in a series of national youth opinion polls conducted by Hamilton College students and faculty.”
As you would expect there is overwhelming support for abortion in cases of rape and when the pregnancy poses a serious threat to woman’s health. What jumped out at me was the response to the hypothetical where the “baby will probably have [a] serious birth defect.”
In adults there is strong support for abortions in such cases. Not so with high school seniors.
Less than half–48.2%–would accept an abortion here. And note that the question is posed as the worst case scenario: the “baby will probably have [a] SERIOUS birth defect.”
Gilbert goes on to posit, “Answers to other questions in the poll suggest that these opinions about the legal issues surrounding abortion are influenced by strong pro-life sentiments.” For example, “Two thirds of the seniors told us they believe abortion is always or usually ‘morally wrong.’”
But, again, that is a more generalized question. How about when these adolescents are “[a]sked whether a high school senior who becomes pregnant should keep the baby, give it up for adoption or have an abortion”?
The poll revealed that “26 percent suggested the first [keep the baby] and 54 percent the second alternative [adoption]. Only 13 percent proposed abortion.”
Interesting, “In rejecting the abortion option, many students stressed the girl’s moral responsibility.”
There are some explanations for these results sprinkled through the analysis, but I think the most revealing was the observation that “Many high school students are not strangers to this issue.” We learn “Half the females and 36 percent of the males polled say they know someone who has had an abortion.”
That goes a long ways toward explaining the next result, I believe:
We asked females whether they would “consider” abortion if they became pregnant in high school and males whether they would want their partner to do so. The response from 70 percent of females and 67 percent of males was “No.”
Gilbert immediately points out, “However, the relatively high proportions of seniors who know someone who has had an abortion suggests they might themselves be more open to it if faced with a real decision about their own lives and futures.”
To his credit Gilbert takes no cheap shots—the kids said one thing, but perhaps would do another if it happened to them. In fact, Gilbert goes in just the opposite direction: “But being compelled to consider abortion would obviously be painful for most high school seniors.”
That some young girls nonetheless have abortions strongly suggests that they may have been overwhelmed by a rush of guilt, panic, fear, and a sense of dread. I am struck by the direct and indirect evidence that high school students really do NOT like abortion and think it is a bad, even immoral choice.
What does that tell us? That if these young people sense that there are real options—a real alternative to abortion—in most instances they will choose life.
If we can help them understand that having that baby is “not the end of my life,” then many millions of unborn babies will not have their lives ended—a win-win situation for both mother and child.
There is real reason for hope and optimism. Young America understands (in that memorable phrase) that “abortion is mean.”
Please also read “Debunking the stereotypes about abortion.”