The Corner

Analyzing Public Opinion on Abortion

This Monday, on the Washington Monthly’s political blog, former Democratic Leadership Council policy director Ed Kilgore had a disappointing analysis of theology and the politics of abortion. Kilgore wonders why rank-and-file Evangelical Christians are more likely to be more pro-life than Roman Catholics. Kilgore finds this puzzling, because he argues that Catholic Church has had more consistent teachings against abortion. He argues that many Protestants became pro-life due to what he calls “dubious, non-scholarly arguments advanced by Francis Schaeffer,” and asserts that the alignment of conservative Evangelicals with the Republican party shifted the opinions of many Evangelical Christians in a pro-life direction.

Unfortunately, Kilgore fails to understand the main factors that influence attitudes toward abortion. Theological beliefs can certainly inform opinions to a certain degree. However, the best predictor of someone’s attitude toward abortion is his or her opinion on the morality of premarital sex. People who think that premarital sex is morally acceptable are very likely to be pro-choice. Conversely, individuals who think premarital sex is wrong are likely to be pro-life. Since rank-and-file Evangelical Christians tend to have more conservative beliefs about sexual behavior than rank-and-file Roman Catholics, it should come as no surprise their attitudes toward abortion are more conservative as well.

This has broader implications for the pro-life movement. During the past 20 years, there have been some gains in overall pro-life public sentiment, despite the fact that public opinion on other social and sexual issues has become somewhat more liberal. Pro-lifers should celebrate these gains in public opinion. Regardless, I always remind pro-lifers that a promiscuous society will never support significant restrictions on abortion. While pro-lifers are good at talking about fetal development and personal responsibility, we are less comfortable with subjects such as sexual activity and contraception. Indeed, it is doubtless more difficult to advocate for sexual restraint than for the unborn. However, this is a battle in which pro-lifers must continue to engage if we are to succeed in our goal of providing legal protection to all unborn children.

— 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

Michael J. New is a research associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New


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