Turning the Tide in the Abortion Struggle

Editor's Note: This is the second from the author in a series on abortion (see the first here), and is published as a part of a symposium hosted by Patheos' Catholic Portal and Evangelical Portal, entitled, "For Life and Family: Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism."

Changes in the culture often precede and even compel changes in the law. Amongst the younger generations of Americans today, the cultural moment for the fight against abortion has come again.

For decades, the warring camps in America's long battle over abortion have appeared to be locked in a stalemate. Roe v. Wade established the legality of abortion on demand in 1973, and the last abortion-related case to reach the Supreme Court (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) came in 1992. Those who favor abortion "rights" have occupied the center of the battleground while the pro-life ranks have fought around the margins in skirmishes over waiting-periods, consent laws, born-alive protections, and gruesome but rare procedures like partial-birth abortion.

It has seemed impossible that Roe should be overturned. The political and cultural forces marshaled on the side of abortion "rights" have long seemed insurmountable. Surveys throughout the 1980s and 1990s consistently showed a mainstream national media staunchly in support of Roe. A 1995 survey of media elite found that 97 percent agreed (84 percent strongly) that "it is a woman's right to decide whether or not to have an abortion."

Given what we know of more recent media voting patterns, it's unlikely this has changed substantially. The entertainment and academic establishments, with all their cultural influence over young people, are also staunchly pro-choice. And of course the Democratic Party, funded and fortified by a broad network of special-interest groups, is so irrevocably committed to legalized abortion that it nominated the most pro-choice President in American history, refused in its party platform to endorse the goal of making abortions "rare," and recently would have driven the government into shutdown rather than take federal funding away from Planned Parenthood, which performs roughly a quarter of the abortions in America.

And yet, against all odds, Americans are becoming more pro-life. In 1995, when the Gallup organization first began asking Americans how they identified themselves, 56 percent called themselves pro-choice and only 33 percent pro-life. In the past decade and a half, those numbers have dramatically reversed. In May of 2009, for the first time in the history of the poll, more Americans (51 percent) identified as pro-life than pro-choice (42 percent). Some suggested it was an anomaly, so Gallup asked the same question two months later and found a 47 to 46 percent division in favor of pro-lifers. It remained the case that more Americans identified as pro-life (47 percent to 45 percent) in May 2010.

On one level, the reasons for this change are demographic. The World War II generation was generally uncomfortable with abortion, but their children, the Baby Boomers, were far more pro-choice. At one time it was assumed that Americans would grow, inexorably, more and more comfortable with abortion—yet it hasn't worked out that way. While those over 65 are still strongly opposed to abortion (over 6 in 10 declare it "morally wrong," according to a Marist survey in 2010), Baby Boomers' views have softened. Actually, 51 percent of boomers view abortion as wrong. Fifty-eight percent of Millennials (aged 18-29) and 60 percent of Generation Xers (30-44) say that abortion is morally wrong. When the rise of pro-life generations is added to the influx of Catholic immigrants, the great majority of whom are conservative on social matters, the stage is set for a second great awakening of the pro-life movement in America.

5/12/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Roe v. Wade
  • Evangelical
  • Life in the Marketplace of Ideas
  • Abortion
  • History
  • Media
  • politics
  • Pro-choice
  • Pro-life
  • Christianity
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Evangelicalism
  • Timothy Dalrymple
    About Timothy Dalrymple
    Timothy Dalrymple is the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Polymath Innovations, a strategic storytelling agency that advances the good with visionary organizations and brands. He leads a unique team of communicators from around North America and across the creative spectrum, serving mission-driven businesses and nonprofits who need a partner to amplify their voice and good works. Once a world-class gymnast whose career ended with a broken neck, Tim channeled his passions for faith and storytelling into his role as VP of Business Development for Patheos, helping to launch and grow the network into the world's largest religion website. He holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Tim blogs at Philosophical Fragments.