Poll: Youth Attitudes on 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Newswise 18 Jan 2013
On the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, more young people – all of whom were born at least 20 years after the decision – identify as “pro-choice” rather than “pro-life,” according to a national poll of more than 4,000 high school and college students conducted by Jennifer L. Lawless, professor and director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University and Richard L. Fox (Loyola Marymount University). 

These labels, however, might obscure a deeper divide in youth political attitudes.  Fifty percent of young people believe that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, and 50 percent believe it should be illegal in all circumstances or except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. “The poll results suggest that the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ labels might obscure our understanding of young people’s attitudes toward abortion,” says Lawless. “Nearly one-third of high school students, for example, do not identify with either label. Yet their attitudes about the circumstances under which abortion should be legal are clear.” 

The overwhelming majority of high school (88 percent) and college (78 percent) students, however, are not “very worried” about the outlawing of abortion rights.  In fact, respondents report being far more worried about war (55%), a terrorist attack (52%), global warming (44%), gun violence (36%), and illegal immigration (28%) than they are the outlawing of abortion rights. 

What emerges as striking from these poll results is the fact that the overwhelming majority of young people are not worried about the outlawing of abortion rights. Despite a presidential campaign that emphasized women’s rights and reproductive freedom, more than 80 percent of high school and college students do not feel threatened.   Even if we focus only on Democrats in the sample, they are more concerned about war, a terrorist attack, the environment, immigration, and gun violence,” observed Lawless.


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