A Secular Pro-Life member recently asked for the source of the claim that young Americans are more pro-life than their older counterparts (which has earned us the moniker “the pro-life generation”). The claim is not based on one particular survey, but on a series of polls over several years. For everyone’s convenience, this blog post serves as a general overview and gathers various relevant items in one place.
The data aren’t perfect; different polling firms use different questions, ranging from the general “pro-life or pro-choice” question to more specific questions about the circumstances in which abortion should or should not be permitted. Nevertheless, taken together, they paint a useful picture.
The pro-life youth trend first emerged in the early 2000s. In 2003, Gallup polled Americans between the ages of 13 and 17 and found that they overwhelmingly believed that abortion was morally wrong (including, Secular Pro-Life is pleased to note, those teens who did not attend church). Moreover, they weren’t just “personally pro-life”; they wanted legal limits on abortion. It was a sign of things to come.
In 2004, Zogby found that 60% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 were pro-life (including 23% who supported a rape exception). Sadly, I cannot find the original Zogby poll, but contemporaneous summaries are available here and here.
In anticipation of the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times, CBS News, and MTV organized a youth-focused poll that covered a wide range of topics, including abortion. It found that Americans under 30 were more likely than the general population to say that abortion should be illegal or more strictly limited. However, the general population leaned pro-life, too; among all adults it was 58% to 39% in favor of abortion restrictions, while among young adults it was 62% to 37%.
In 2010, Gallup published an article entitled “Generational Differences on Abortion Narrow,” in which it noted that support for legal abortion had “dipped” among young people. In the span of a decade, there was a significant change: back in the 1990s, the 18- to 29-year-old cohort was the most supportive of unrestricted legal abortion. But by 2010, young people were more pro-life than their parents, the 30-49 group and the 50-64 group. (However, they were not more pro-life than their grandparents, the 64+ group. This is why you sometimes hear the clarification that this is the most pro-life generation since Roe v. Wade. As an aside, this undercuts the excuse made by some pro-choice advocates that young people are only pro-life because they aren’t old enough to remember the alleged “bad old days of back-alley abortion.”)
Finally, it is worth noting that the label “pro-life generation” is not purely a numerical one; it is also a qualitative one. The Susan B. Anthony List points to a NARAL poll which found a troubling-for-them, great-for-babies difference in the level of enthusiasm young people have for the cause: “51% of pro-life young people see abortion as an important electoral issue, while only 20% of pro-choice young people feel the same way.”
Obviously this is not a comprehensive list of every abortion poll known to man, but I hope it’s helpful. Feel free to share any other pieces on abortion views by age in the comments!