Attitudes towards Abortion among American Religious Groups -- Sightings

It's a political football that won't go away.  It riles up church goers and raises ethical questions, but the reality is, the polls say, most Americans favor legalized abortion.  Martin Marty gives his thoughts on the latest polls that show little change, and which make you wonder why it is used as a political issue.  So read and respond!

Sightings  6/13/2011

Attitudes towards Abortion among American Religious Groups

-- Martin E. Marty

Life is short, and if you want to spend what’s left of it examining the results of the latest poll of attitudes towards abortion, follow the link to the Public Religion Research Institute and receive the unsummarized set of findings. If you have other uses with that time and do not need a close-up, you might content yourself as I did, on the principle that “life is short,” by reading the faithful “Executive Summary.” We leave to others the discussions of poll methodology, contexts, and intentions, and plunge in.Among those who keep up on this kind of venture, it will come as no surprise that there are no surprises on a startling scale in the findings. Many of them confirm hunches or provide data that will be of interest to partisans who needed a bit more ammunition in the culture wars. At the same time, there are some fresh insights and they deserve and demand attention. You can be sure that political candidates, legislators, and judges will study them. Thus, in bold type, the Executive Summary leads off reporting that in the majority opinion of the polled, abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while four in ten disagree. This proportion is reflected in all religious groups, including the Catholic, except for white evangelicals, who are courted by activists on the “anti-” side.

Thinking of what this means in politics: almost sixty percent “say that at least some health care professionals in their communities should provide abortion.” This time white evangelical Protestants are anti-abortion and joined by Latino Catholics. “White mainline” and “unaffiliated” are most “pro” (at 72% and 71%). “White Catholic” and (here’s one surprise for me) black Protestants, line up next (58% and 56%) as pro-abortion. Least enthusiastic is the third duo, “Latino Catholic” and “white evangelical” (at 38% and 37%). One large gap is between the pro-abortion among metropolitan areas (67%) and rural dwellers (39%).

In general, age is a determining factor, since the youngest cohort (18-29) and the oldest (65+) are far apart, 68% to 42% pro-abortion. Leaders of activist groups on both sides have their work cut out for them as they seek to confirm and then enlarge the company of those who currently line up with them. Battlers favoring or opposed to legal abortion can report little trend change; twelve years ago 57% and today 56% of the polled thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases, but those opposing same-sex marriage can take less comfort from a trend: in 1999 only 35% of the polled thought the law should recognize same-sex marriages, while the number is 53% today. The younger group favors legalizing same sex marriage (57%) yet only 46% are for legal abortion. The two controversial issues are not coupled the way many observers expected them to be.

Can you go to church and escape bombardment pro- or con-? Just over half of reasonably regular church-goers hear the subjects brought up there, but Catholics are more likely to hear messages on the subjects than are other church-goers. Is there wiggle-room? Definitely. 72% of “religious Americans” think it is alright to disagree with their church’s views on abortion and remain in good standing. Even polled Catholics and white evangelicals agree that it is alright or at least possible to disagree and keep standing.

Absolutists have trouble with majority views that they will see as “relative” since majorities may think abortion is wrong but should be allowed. What can politicians do?

Public Religion Research Institute, “Committed to Availability, Conflicted about Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells Us about the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars.”

Martin E. Marty's biography, publications, and contact information can be found at

This month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum is Joshua Daniel’s “Cultivating Trust: Vulnerability and Creativity in Moral Education”: The insecurity of modern social life, marked by the constant threat of “human-produced, but often uncontrollable catastrophes—nuclear and financial fall-outs, terrorist attacks, climate change, etc.”—inevitably erodes trust in social institutions. But such trust, Joshua Daniel argues, is the essential “precondition for the sort of innovation” necessary to deal with “trust-corroding insecurity.” Daniel proposes that the cultivation of trust “requires cultivating a sense of and respect for the vulnerabilities of others.” He especially addresses religious communities struggling to achieve the innovation of tradition “in the face of accusations of betrayal and heresy." With invited responses by Philip Blackwell, Martin Marty, and Scott Paeth. 
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


Gary said…
Abortion is going to remain legal until Christ returns. But it has been, is, and will continue to be immoral.
David said…
I agree.
David said…
Pro-abortion is not the correct term to use. One can easily
Be pro-choice and anti-abortion. Who would say they are pro-abortion? It''s like pro-life, it's an absurd term.
Robert Cornwall said…
David, I think you're right -- you can and many are pro-choice, but are against abortion. There is ambivalence about imposing one's own views on this issue.
Brian said…
It is hard to get an abortion. This should not be the case. It requires planning, travel time, and invasive laws (required sonogram). This mostly hurts the poor (Christ).

Listen to the women who've had to jump through hoops because of the emotionalism and politics. They are the ones who matter. ... the only ones who matter.

What is the real motivation for making abortions difficult for poor women to get? After all, American Christians have a proven track record of not giving a damn about poor children. They'll grow up with little to no opportunities except to be cannon fodder for the military industrial complex and/or a pawn in a for-profit prison. All the while those profiting off of the misery of the poor (Christ) will yammer about Jesus.

Christ has already returned. American Christians hate him.
Gary said…

What an unrealistic view of reality. Not to mention bad theology.
David said…
I agree with Brian also. I've seen young women jumping hoops back in the sixties.

Except, it's not only the woman who should, or always alone matters. That attitude cheapens life. Takes two.

They hold the trump card though.
David said…
In the US, about half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

I'm tired of business as usual, but don't wish to return to a theocracy.
Brian said…
Did Gary just say my understanding of reality is unrealistic?
- This is the same Gary who believes that God literally spoke in 1611 via the King James Bible.
- This is the same Gary who believes that there is an actual supernatural entity who spends HIS time plotting the destruction of nations that are nice to gay people.
- This is the same Gary who believes that Bob is a wild-eyed liberal who is leading his flock straight to the pits of hell.
- This is the same Gary who believes that the earth is 6000 years old. (I'm making an assumption based on his childish, not childlike, views of scripture.)

Hey Gary - When you're ready for solid food, give me a call.
Gary said…

You and I differ on what is in the Bible, who God is, and what truth is. I believe I am right, and you are wrong, based on what the Bible actually says, rather than on your fantasy version.
David said…
I wonder what the conversation would be like today if Brian and Gary had been switched at birth.
Anonymous said…
It is my impression that since Roe v. Wade, those who strongly identify with one side or the other of this argument have generally been very lazy in defending and developing their respective position.

Those who are identified as “pro-choice” seem to have done little to accept the limitations of their position, specifically, at what point is a pregnancy a child with constitutional rights – or – when does a pregnancy achieve personhood? Tackling this issue would have strengthened the protection of early pregnancy abortions and would have made impossible the legal move to declare life begins at conception. Too often the “pro-choice” arguments have either been as shrill as their opponents or buried in constitutional legalese – effectively leaving all “Christian” arguments to their opponents. Worse, it seemed many on the “pro-choice” side were as equally interested in maintaining the schism as their opponents, more interested in circling their forces and protecting their position instead of searching for a way forward and a way to reconciliation.

Those who are identified as “pro-life” have been more dedicated to being disruptive and contrarian than raising funds for basic research to scientifically and legally define “consciousness” and “awareness”. They have seemed more interested in winning legally and politically than saving babies. Instead, during the intervening years since Roe v. Wade, much energy and many resources have been used to picket and protest and obstruct and create a shrill atmosphere that encourages ignorance, hate and violence, including murder. If, instead there had been the necessary basic research, then the prohibition against third-trimester abortions would have been strengthened and probably enlarged and abortions would have been greatly decreased. This would not have been achieved not so much through an all-inclusive judicial fiat or blanket legislation as through better individual diagnostics.

Those who are identified as “pro-life” have missed the boat by not being loudly vocal for better pre-natal health services, making birth control more easily available for women and men. Being “pro-life” has wide implications: advocating for increased availability of better child care and health after birth, advocating a richer and wider perception of foster care and adoption, better justice and economic equality for women, justice and growth opportunities for the poor and oppressed and lost, and opposition to the death penalty.

There is much that should be Christian in the “pro-life” position, but the way it has been expressed so far – through deliberately harmful actions and a complete lack of righteous actions – Jesus has been completely squeezed out of the movement which makes the movement as anti-Christian as it is anti-abortion.

Doug Sloan
Anonymous said…
Life neither begins at conception nor ends at birth.

Doug Sloan

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