There has probably been more public-opinion research on abortion than on any other subject, but relatively little research has been conducted specifically on the attitude of college students toward abortion. Last week, Students for Life of America (SFLA) released the results of a professionally done survey of this demographic. The findings present some interesting opportunities for pro-lifers.
The results are fairly similar to the results of the recent General Social Surveys (GSS). Young adults are not particularly receptive to the pro-life label. However, they tend to oppose abortions in many specific situations. A full 44 percent of respondents in the SFLA survey thought that abortions should either be illegal or only legal in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother. This is comparable to the 45 percent who thought abortion should be legal in a wider range of circumstances. Young adults also seem responsive to incremental pro-life policy objectives. They oppose sex-selective abortions and support conscience protections for religious organizations.
The one troubling finding is that pro-lifers lose some ground as students get older. Both high-school students and college freshmen were more likely to describe themselves as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.” But “pro-choice” label leads among college juniors and seniors. In fairness, these results might be skewed somewhat by the fact that not everyone who starts college actually graduates from college. And students who finish might come from wealthier families or have parents with more formal education.
The pro-life movement has not always invested much in youth outreach. Many pro-life candidates are hesitant to reach out to college students and young adults. The results of this study, however, demonstrate the importance of continued outreach efforts. And pro-life activists should take heart: The results add to a body of research that shows that young adults oppose abortion in a variety of circumstances and support incremental pro-life laws. All in all, young adults may be more receptive to a pro-life message than many realize.
— Michael New is an Assistant Professor at The University of Michigan – Dearborn, a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New