Millennials conflicted about abortion, more clear on support for same-sex marriage
"We want to talk about trendy news, do trendy things," he said. "It bugs the heck out of me, but it has it's upsides, because I do think that being trendy has made it appropriate to talk about things our parents didn't really talk about that much."
This attitude shift can clearly be seen through an exercise Cox did with focus groups before the official survey of 3,000 Americans, which included a large chunk of Millennials. They asked white, politically moderate Millennials to write down the first word that came to mind when given the words "same-sex marriage" and "abortion."
In the abortion category, a majority of words (54 percent) were opposing - "anger," "death" "loss" "killing an innocent life" "sad" "scary" and "wrong."
In the same-sex marriage category, 53 percent of words were affirming, like "love" "equality" "go for it!" "it's cool" "progress" and "what's the difference."
Cox said it showed same-sex marriage is seen as something to be "celebrated," unlike abortion, which "even if you support (it), it's not something that's generally celebrated. It's often talked about as a failure," he said. "We think that the Millennials are making this distinction between same-sex marriage, which is celebrated, and abortion, which while a majority say it should be legal, they definitely have moral concerns."
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Such moral concern was also seen in survey responses by Americans who couldn't pick just one label or term to define their position on abortion and instead exhibited "overlapping identities and attitudes."
A large majority of respondents said the term "pro-choice" described them somewhat (32 percent) or very (38 percent) well, yet another two-thirds said they could also be defined very (35 percent) or somewhat (31 percent) well by the term "pro-life."
For Millennials, 75 percent picked the term "pro-choice," yet 65 percent also said that "pro-life" is somewhat self-descriptive.
"It's a testament to the fact that the pro-life community has been effective with their messaging in reaching younger people, who until recently took a more traditionally liberal position on this issue," Whelan said. "For my generation growing up in the 1960s, it was very unfashionable to be outspokenly pro-life. It was seen as anti-woman, at a time when feminism represented the new frontier in civil rights. But now, most people don't seem to equate being pro-life with being against the interests of women."
When the survey asked for a more specific answer on the abortion question, 37 percent of Americans and 40 percent of Millennials still identified themselves with "mixed" terms or as someone who rejected both terms equally.
"I think that pro-life or pro-choice, those are too narrow to describe my opinion," said Ray Walker, a 23-year-old chemical engineering student at the University of Utah. "I don't think it should be illegal, because ... there's exceptions to everything. But at the same time, abortion is, you are aborting a potential life, and that, in my opinion, is murder. That's my stand. I don't think it should be illegal, but people should think twice, even three times before they go through with it."
Walker believes that in cases of rape, where a woman's right to choose was taken away, the woman should have a choice regarding the pregnancy.
That type of consideration, an approach shared by many, represents more of a situational, rather than a principle-based approach to the issue of abortion.
Sixty-four percent of Millennials consider themselves situationalists in regards to moral questions, which translates to higher acceptance of abortion than their principle-based counterparts.
Yet, most of the situations Millennials and many others rely on as reasons for their approval of abortion - rape, incest and health of the mother - are far more rare than they realize, says Helen Alvar, an associate professor of law at George Mason University and author of numerous articles on abortion, same-sex marriage and family law.
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