More Education Is Needed

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) recently conducted a poll [PDF] focusing on Millennial generation adults (ages 18-29) and their opinions on abortion, homosexuality, and religion.

The thing that most strikes me about the abortion-related poll results (I haven’t analyzed the rest) is the need to continue educating Americans on 1) what the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” mean; and 2) why most women have abortions.

Are You Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?

According to PRRI’s Executive Summary,

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.

What was really going on in the minds of these respondents?

Question 14 asks:

Now as I read a couple of terms please tell me how well the following describe you. Pro-Life/Pro-Choice [it was randomly selected which term was mentioned first]. Would you say this describes you very well, somewhat well, not too well, or not at all well?

The pollster would then repeat the question, substituting the other option (pro-choice/pro-life).

35% of people said “pro-life” describes them “very well.” Now, logically, if pro-life describes you “very well,” then pro-choice would describe you “not at all well.” Yet only 16% gave that response.

On the flip side, 38% said “pro-choice” describes them “very well” and only 18% answered “not at all well” for the pro-life question.

PRRI says this means Millennials hold complex beliefs that do not fit well into binaries.

If nearly everyone fell into the “somewhat well” categories for both questions, I would agree. But, as I pointed out above, people aren’t giving the responses you would expect from someone who knows what the terms mean. (What truly passionate pro-lifer would ever say “pro-choice” describes them even “somewhat well”?)

So rather than concluding that Millennials are complex, I am concluding (cf. Occam’s Razor) that many Millennials are unfamiliar with the distinction between the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice”.

I can’t help but recall a conversation with the boyfriend of a friend of mine. When told I worked for the Pro-Life Action League, he finally admitted he wasn’t sure which side “pro-life” was. To make it clear, I told him that I believe killing babies is wrong. If he’d taken this survey before that encounter happened, who knows what response he would have given the pollster!

When Should Abortion Be Legal?

Again according to the PRRI Executive Survey:

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.

So, when respondents are simply asked whether abortion should be legal or illegal, most think abortion should be legal in “most cases.”

But what do they really think about specific situations?

Question 10 asks, “Should it be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion in this circumstance or not?” to a variety of circumstances. Here are the results:

    If the woman’s physical health is seriously endangered: 86% yes, 10% no
    If the woman’s mental health is seriously endangered: 74% yes, 22% no
    If there is a strong chance of serious defect in the baby: 66% yes, 28% no
    If she became pregnant as the result of rape: 79% yes, 17% no
    If she is not married and doesn’t want to marry the man: 39% yes, 58% no
    If family has very low income/cannot afford more children: 45% yes, 52% no
    If she’s still in high school: 47% yes, 49% no

Now let’s look at why women really have abortions (scroll down to “compiled estimates” chart):

    Rape: 0.3%
    Incest: 0.03%
    Physical life of mother: 0.2%
    Physical health of mother: 1.0%
    Fetal health: 0.5%
    Too young/immature/not ready for responsibility: 32%
    Economic: 30%
    To avoid adjusting life: 16%
    Mother single or in poor relationship: 12%
    Enough children already: 4%

If those answering the survey knew that 98% of abortions are for “personal” reasons, do you think they would answer the question “Should abortion be legal in most circumstances:” differently?

I’d put money on it.

Other Analyses of the Survey

Others have looked at the results from PRRI and have come up with some very interesting observations.

Dave Andrusko of National Right to Life Committee points out the bias of those conducting the survey, which likely created a pro-abortion bias in the wording of the questions, the results, and how they were reported.

Jivin Jehoshaphat remarks on the illogical responses to the questions of whether abortion laws in certain circumstances would be appropriate.

In an article by the National Catholic Register, Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, remarked that the self identification as both pro-life and pro-choice reflects how valuable “life” and “choice” are perceived to be by Americans (Dr. Celeste Condit pointed out in her book, Decoding Abortion Rhetoric, this is why the two camps chose these terms in the first place.)

And for a liberal perspective on this same poll, check out this Huffington Post commentary.

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