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What explains young Americans’ divergent views on homosexuality and abortion?
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The General Social Survey shows that young Americans became the most pro-life group around the year 2000, and that they’ve become more pro-life since.
According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 46 percent of 18-to-34 years olds are pro-choice, while 44 percent are pro-life.
Young Americans are also the most likely to hold the no exceptions pro-life position. Gallup noted in 2010 that, “support for making abortion broadly illegal [is] growing fastest among young adults…. Young adults were slightly more likely than all other age groups, including seniors, to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.” Indeed, 24% of 18-to-34 year olds believe all abortions should be illegal.
Other polls tell a similar story. A 2011 Reuters poll found that two-thirds of Americans under 35 years old feel abortion is wrong, compared to 59% of Americans generally.
Abortion rights advocates have noticed the pro-life shift. A 2010 NARAL Pro-Choice America report fretted about the deep “intensity gap” on abortion. Citing the findings of an opinion survey it conducted, NARAL noted that while more than half (51%) of pro-life voters under 30 years old called their opposition to abortion a “very important” voting issue, just 26% of abortion advocates under 30 felt that the issue was “very important” to their vote.
The divergence among millennials on homosexuality and abortion is stark. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 53% of 18-to-34 year olds felt abortion is morally wrong. It was the age group most likely to feel that way. But at 70%, millennials were also the age group most likely to support same-sex marriage.
This divergence is evident even among evangelical Christians. According to the Pew Religion Forum, 69% of white evangelicals under 30 identify as pro-life, while just 55% of them believe homosexuality should be discouraged.
Barna Research has found that 69% of 18-to-21 year-old born-again Christians believe abortion is a “major problem,” while just 35% of them think homosexuality is a “major problem.”
How can we explain these divergent views on homosexuality and abortion?
Both gay rights and pro-life advocates have adopted the language of civil rights. And both have convinced many Americans that their causes aim to extend natural rights to more people, a goal that speaks to young Americans’ sense of social justice.
Young Americans grow up in an environment in which homosexuality is portrayed sympathetically, on television and in movies, in schools and in the culture generally. This has helped to humanize gays, and reveal them to be more like their neighbors than like sex-crazed participants in gay pride parades.
On abortion, sonogram technology and other advances have helped to humanize unborn children, revealing them to be the living, feeling, learning human beings they are.
What’s more, abortion is by definition a sad event, a sign that something has gone wrong. As the saying goes, nobody ever says “thank you” to an abortionist. The best even abortion advocates can claim is that abortion is the lesser of two evils.
The birth of a child, meanwhile, is always seen as a reason to celebrate. And that’s what millennials appear to prize most — celebrating the human experience and its expansion to more people.
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