Here is a quiz question: Regarding which social issue are young people decidedly more conservative than their parents and grandparents?
The surprising answer, according to a magisterial new book titled American Grace by Harvard Professor of Public Policy, Robert Putnam, is – abortion!
The survey data of public opinion is really incontrovertible. Concerning almost every social issue, young adults are more liberal than their elders. So, for example, young adults are more permissive regarding gay marriage, premarital sex, and marijuana use than are older generations. But post-boomers are significantly less pro-choice than their boomer parents. According to Putnam, abortion is a stunning outlier for young adults. There is particularly strong disapproval for abortion for social or economic reasons such as a woman who is married and doesn’t want another child, a family which feels it can’t afford more children, or an unmarried woman who does not want to marry the father.
What accounts for this unexpected shift in opinion on abortion? Putnam suggests a few possibilities. Because young adults have grown up in a world of widely available contraceptives, pregnancy is generally seen as a failure to take responsibility for one’s choices. So, in many cases, young adults feel that abortion amounts to an unwillingness to accept the consequences for one’s own choices rather than a so-called tragic moral dilemma. “Taking responsibility for one’s behavior” has great potential as a message for increasing the valuing of life among young adults.
A second reason why young adults are more willing to restrict the availability of abortion has to do with changing technology and the impact of ultrasound technology. When a mother can bring home 3-D video images of her baby, it is increasingly implausible to refer to a child in utero as “part of a woman’s body” or as “tissue.” Even the impersonal “fetus” doesn’t do justice to what a woman sees on her ultrasound.
Where are the open doors for policy change? While young adults are not in favor of prohibiting all abortions, there are a number of extremely viable legal restrictions of current abortion laws. These restrictions would include such things as the required offering of pre-abortion ultrasounds, mandatory informed consent signatures, waiting periods, fetal pain counseling, and mandatory information regarding the potential psychological impact of an abortion on a woman. Moreover, there is a huge opening for state and federal support for pregnancy clinics which provide both pre and post-birth assistance to mothers in a strictly value-life setting.
2011 may shape up to be a very good year in the fight for life!
Rich Nathan is Senior Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Columbus, Ohio. Prior to pastoring full time, Rich taught business law at The Ohio State University for five years. He has served on the National Executive Board for Vineyard: A Community of Churches for over a decade and is currently serving as the Large Church Task Force leader for the Vineyard and is a popular national and international conference speaker. He is the author of Who is My Enemy? Welcoming People the Church Rejects (Zondervan, 2002) and co-authored the book, Empowered Evangelicals (Servant Press, 1995) with Ken Wilson. He has written numerous articles on leadership in publications such as Leadership Magazine. He is currently working on a new book on the subject of evangelical faith and politics. Rich and his wife of over 30 years, Marlene, have a son and daughter-in-law, Daniel and Melissa, a daughter and son-in-law, Sharon and Noah Pederson, two grandsons and two granddaughters.