Younger People Are Not More Pro-Choice

Thursday, December 4, AD 2008

Douthat flagged the following graph by Razib at Secular Right, summarizing the views of Americans by age on abortion and homosexuality:


Granted, the phrasing of the question is more favorable to the pro-life position, but there is no reason to suspect that this would affect the comparison between younger and older voters. Also (paging Darwin), Douthat has some interesting thoughts on rights-talk and the success of the pro-life movement (and the debates about same-sex marriage). This passage from an old exchange between Douthat, Larison, and Millman stood out:

Yet allowing all this, and allowing that a Christian or a Jew or a conservative liberal might increasingly doubt the wisdom of rights-talk as the foundation of political order, we are nonetheless citizens of a country in which rights-talk is basically the only kind of talk there is – and I have a hard time seeing the case for pro-lifers abandoning the idea of a “right to life” in favor of a language of duties and obligations that might be philosophically closer to the truth but would definitely be less politically appealing. In so doing, they would be giving up the one great arrow in the pro-life quiver right now, which is that abortion isn’t consonant with American liberalism as originally conceived, and the original interpretation of American liberalism still has a lot of purchase on our country’s political mind, in a way that arguments based on duties and obligations just don’t. Indeed, by abandoning a “right to life” language, pro-lifers wouldn’t just be giving up on any short-term hope of changing America’s abortion laws, they would be effectively giving up on liberalism altogether. Some people think that time has come (or that liberalism was a mistake from the beginning); I’m not persuaded.

Read the original posts here, here, and here. Thoughts?

4 Responses to Younger People Are Not More Pro-Choice

  • I’m somewhat confused – what does the yellow line represent?

  • Apologies – I did not prepare the graph and the labeling is confusing. The yellow line represents the percentage of respondents who stated that homosexuality is ‘always wrong’.

  • I certainly think that the reason that the pro-life argument has been comparatively successful in the wider culture is that it has utilized “rights talk” in regards to the unborn child — and the right to not be killed generally comes off as more sympathetic (until people are asked to “judge” in a particular situation) than the right to terminate your child and get on with your life. That combined with the advancements in medical science which have given us such a good look at the unborn child have provided the pro-life movement with very much needed support.

    However as the above graph points out, the rights-talk approach cuts against traditional culture as much as or more than it supports it. It’s very difficult to formulate a personal freedom argument _against_ gay marraige — and I think that’s why we see increasing acceptance of the idea among the young.

    I think there’s certainly room for hope in this regard, in that not only does a more traditional culture result in much higher likelihood of having children to make up future generations, but also I think people often realize the necessity of duties and cultural norms rather later in life than they realize the attractiveness of rights. Getting something is always more attractive than having to follow rules much less having duties towards other people. But enough life experience can often teach that these are as important or more important than “rights”.

    Still, it’s certainly an uphill battle that we have to fight.