Pew Poll Shows Few Americans Find Abortion Morally Acceptable

by Michael J. New

This week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey on the morality of abortion. The results indicated that 49 percent of Americans found abortion to be immoral. Only 15 percent found abortion morally acceptable and 23 percent felt it was not a moral issue. Religion was a strong predictor of abortion attitudes. White Evangelicals were the religious group most opposed to abortion — with 75 percent indicating they found abortion immoral. Catholics were also statistically more likely to consider abortion immoral. This is in contrast to past surveys which indicated that Catholic views on abortion are very similar to those of the broader population. 

However, as many political professionals and researchers know, church attendance is a far better predictor of abortion attitudes than religious beliefs. Seventy percent of those who attend religious services once a week were inclined to say abortion is immoral. Within religious groups there were significant differences in attitudes between frequent and infrequent church attendees. For instance, 74 percent of white Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week consider abortion morally wrong. This is compared with 40 percent of white Catholics who attend Mass less often.

The demographic breakdown was also interesting. Pundits frequently enjoy pointing out that young adults and women are statistically less likely to describe themselves as “pro-life.” But, these pundits typically ignore other measures of abortion attitudes that tell a different story. For instance, in this survey, those under 50 are less likely to consider abortion immoral – but the difference is very slight – one percentage point. Furthermore, this Pew poll shows that women are actually more likely than men to consider abortion immoral.  

The fact that pro-lifers have convinced many Americans that abortion is immoral has quietly paid some real dividends. For instance, few doctors are willing to perform abortions and supporters of legal abortion have had to make large investments to train the next generation of abortion practitioners. Furthermore, several Gallup surveys have found that pro-life sentiment has increased during a time when attitudes toward the morality of abortion have remained fairly stable. The fact that more Americans are translating their moral unease about abortion into political and legal opposition to abortion is a positive development – and is a nice testament to the good work of the pro-life movement.

— Michael J. New is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at The University of Michigan – Dearborn and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New