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News Release | Millennial Generation Committed to Availability, Conflicted about Morality of Abortion

[06.09.2011]

Two-thirds of Americans identify with both “pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels

Washington, D.C. – Americans age 18-29 years old strongly support the availability of abortions in their local community, despite being conflicted over its morality, a new study finds.

The Millennials, Abortion and Religion Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and released today at the Brookings Institution, is one of the largest public opinion surveys on abortion and religion ever conducted. The survey also finds that there are large generational differences on two issues that have often been linked in political discourse: abortion and same-sex marriage.

“Millennials embody the decoupling of the so-called ‘values voter’ agenda,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “On the issue of abortion, Millennials mirror their parents’ views, with about 6-in-10 saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases. But they are much more supportive than their parents of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. This suggests that we may see these issues moving on separate tracks in the future.”

The new survey also finds that, when given the opportunity, approximately two-thirds of all Americans describe themselves simultaneously as “pro-choice” and “pro-life.”

“On the issue of abortion, many Americans hold complex views and fluid identities,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “For some time now, Americans have held a stable tension between two views: majorities both say that abortion is morally wrong and say that it should be legal in all or most cases. The binary ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ labels don’t reflect this complexity.”

The survey also found a surprising gap among Millennials between support for the legality of abortion and support for availability of abortion in their local community.

“Controlling for other factors, while Millennials are slightly less likely than the general population to support the legality of abortion, they are slightly more likely to say abortions should be available from at least some health care professionals in their local community,” said Rachel Laser, a PRRI consultant and co-author of the report. “This suggests the traditional measures of legality may not fully capture support for legal abortion among Millennials.”

Among the Findings:

  • A solid majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all (19%) or most (37%) cases, compared to 4-in-10 who say it should be illegal in all (14%) or most (26%) cases. With the exception of white evangelical Protestants, majorities of every major religious group say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
  • Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans say that at least some health care professionals in their communities should provide legal abortions.
  • The binary “pro-choice”/“pro-life” labels do not reflect the complexity of Americans’ views on abortion. Seven-in-ten Americans say the term “pro-choice” describes them somewhat or very well, and nearly two-thirds simultaneously say the term “pro-life” describes them somewhat or very well.  This overlapping identity is present in virtually every demographic group.
  • Majorities of Americans simultaneously say abortion is morally wrong (52%) and that it should be legal in all or most cases (56%).
  • The study identified and tested a number of hypotheses about independent influences on attitudes about the legality of abortion. Among these, having seen MTV’s reality shows about unmarried pregnant teenagers has a positive impact on support for the legality of abortion, while recently seeing an ultrasound has a negative impact on support for the legality of abortion.
  • Among Americans who attend church at least once or twice a month, majorities report hearing their clergy talk about the issue of abortion (54%) or homosexuality (51%) in church. Catholics are significantly more likely than Protestants to hear about abortion in church.
  • More than 7-in-10 (72%) religious Americans believe it is possible to disagree with the teachings of their religion on the issue of abortion and still be considered a person of good standing in their faith. A majority of all major religious groups, including Catholics and white evangelical Protestants agree with this statement.

Read the Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.

*The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and funded by the Ford Foundation. Results of the survey were based on 3,000 bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews, including 750 cell phone interviews, conducted between April 22, 2011 and May 8, 2011. The margin of error is +/- 2.0 percentage points for the general sample and +/- 4.5 percentage points for the 18-29 year old sample at the 95% confidence interval.