by Michael New
The New York Times ran an interesting article last week about how supporters of legal abortion are backing away from the label “pro-choice.” But supporters of legal abortion redefining themselves is nothing new: The group NARAL started in the late 1960s as the National Association to Repeal the Abortion Laws. Later, they became the National Abortion Rights Action League. Later still, they became the National Abortion Rights and Reproductive Rights Action League. The most interesting name shift, however, occurred in 2003, when NARAL evidently decided that abortion was playing too prominent a role in its name and they became “NARAL: Pro-Choice America.”
Apparently now even the term “pro-choice” has fallen out of favor.
The New York Times article is consistent with my own observations. As a college professor, I have noticed that campus groups supportive of legal abortion now use the term “reproductive justice” instead of “pro-choice.” I’ve also noticed that supporters of legal abortion are having a difficult time engaging the current generation of young adults. A recent Rasmussen poll confirms that impression, finding that voters under 40 were less likely than other age demographics to find the abortion issue “very important” while voting and more likely to find the issue “not at all important.”
Moreover, there is plenty of survey data which finds that the current generation of young adults is more skeptical about abortion than previous generations. The General Social Survey (GSS) has been collecting opinion data on abortion using the same battery of questions since the 1970s. During the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 were the least sympathetic toward the pro-life position. Yet since 2000, the GSS has consistently found that young adults are actually more comfortable limiting abortion in certain circumstances than are older Americans.
Other polling data shows that young adults are more likely than other demographic groups to support a 20-week abortion ban and are fairly comfortable with a range of incremental pro-life laws.
The article, in other words, is good news. It is clear that supporters of legal abortion are struggling to find messaging that will engage young voters, while pro-lifers continue to make quiet inroads among young adults.