Doubts about the abortion generation

youngprolifers It's not just a truism that generations differ by outlook -- it's a fact. When George McGovern was the Democratic presidential nominee, he did 10 percentage-points better among young voters than their older counterparts. The eminent Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam has found that the single biggest reason for the decline of social capital in the United States is the dying off of the "long civic generation" of those who grew up before World War II.

Even so, I question the conventional wisdom that simply by virtue of their generation, young people today are pro-life. It strikes me as too pat, too simplistic. Might not other factors be at play?

Exhibit A is Stephanie Simon's story in The Los Angeles Times, whose nutgraph is below:

Thirty-five years after Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, opponents are pouring resources into building new generations of activists. Young people are responding with passion.

Today's students and young adults have grown up in a time when abortion was widely accessible and acceptable, and a striking number are determined to end that era.

Simon in this passage makes two (unstated) claims. Her first claim is that young people today are more pro-life than their older counterparts. She cites an undated Pew poll that 22 percent of those 18-to-29-year-old support a "total ban" on abortion, while only 15 percent of their parent's generation do.

I'm not sure that generation is the determining factor. In fact, Simon implies as much:

Pew Research Center polls dating back a decade show that 18- to 29-year-olds are consistently more likely than the general adult population to favor strict limits on abortion.

This summary suggests that a person's age is a key independent variable, not one's generation. If the data showed that Generation Y was more pro-life in its youth than Generation X or the baby boomers, Simon ought to have told her readers.

Perhaps I protest too much. Yet my understanding is that Americans become less pro-life the longer they stay in college. While I cannot find a reference, I remember reading a study that this was true for Catholic students. As circumstantial evidence, Simon in her story quoted young teenagers, who are presumably not in college. So did Sue Anne Pressley Montes of The Washington Post in her coverage of the March for Life.

If Generation Y really is more pro-life than its predecessors, reporters have failed to explain the reasons adequately. Simon implies that young people are rebelling against society's callous acceptance of abortion:

Today's students and young adults have grown up in a time when abortion was widely accessible and acceptable, and a striking number are determined to end that era.

Again, I don't know. In The Los Angeles Times, longtime abortion-industry leaders Frances Kissling and Kate Michelman, strikingly, declared that technology and science has made more people pro-life:

Science facilitated the swing of the pendulum. Three-dimensional ultrasound images of babies in utero began to grace the family fridge. Fetuses underwent surgery. More premature babies survived and were healthier. They commanded our attention, and the question of what we owe them, if anything, could not be dismissed.

To her credit, Simon writes toward the end of her story that ultrasound images of unborn infants has galvanized the new generation.

Simon's second claim is that young people today increasingly are becoming anti-abortion activists. She cites pro-life activists in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and California who have succeeded in challenging the abortion status quo. But is their status as members of Generation Y the determining factor? Simon never adequately says.

In the case of activists, Julia Duin of The Washington Times suggests that, to her surprise, most are Catholic:

I didn't realize how many thousands of kids -- mostly Catholic ones -- pour into town for this gruesome anniversary each year. There's the Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life at Georgetown University and the Students for Life conference across town at Catholic University. Those are just some of the many activities and gatherings going on around town.

Then there's the 8,000 students who show up at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception tonight for a procession of litanies, rosaries, vigil Masses and confessions going on all night long. A lot of these students will actually be sleeping on the floor and in the pews.

Then on Tuesday morning, the Verizon center downtown will be packed with 20,000 young Catholics -- along with cardinals, bishops and a few hundred priests -- for an annual Mass for Life. The Jesuits will have their own separate Mass at St. Alyosius Church.

Duin's findings gibes with my own experience at the March for Life.

While covering the event or walking with those in my local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, I have been struck by the profusion of Catholics. Endless statues of Mary, banners for seemingly every Catholic high school and seminary east of the Mississippi, signs urging participants to receive Holy Communion on the tongue rather than by hand -- the event is not so much a "gigantic pep rally" as a gigantic Catholic pep rally.

Perhaps I am wrong. But if the generational tide pulls so strong, are young mainline Protestants and Jews becoming pro-life activists? If so, that would show that one's generation is more important than one's religion. None of the stories explored this possibility.

In summary, Generation Y might well be more pro-life than its predecessors. But if so, aren't education, science and technology, and religion major reasons why they are?

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