On a Feministing thread about an anti-abortion rally, a few commenters are trying to counter the idea that the relative youth of many anti-abortion activists is a source of concern for pro-choicers. The idea is that some people change their minds when they grow up, so the ideas that are prevalent among 19-year-olds aren’t going to become more prevalent in the future.
The evidence they cite is anecdotal. Colleen says, “It certainly doesn’t mean that they’ll stay pro-life.” The Law Fairy says, “I marched in a protest outside a Planned Parenthood once when I was sixteen… and look where I am now.”
On most issues, Americans get more liberal as they get younger. Pew breaks down polls about various social issues based on age. Americans in the 18-29 range are far more pro-gay and pro-health care than Americans in older brackets. Apart from abortion, the only exception is holding people in Guantanamo without charge, on which they’re as liberal as 65+ Americans and much more liberal than Americans in the 30-64 range.
A South Dakota-style abortion ban, which would turn the US from one of the most liberal countries on abortion to one of the most conservative ones, polls at 34-58. Among under-30 people it’s 35-58, whereas on gay rights they tend to be more liberal than the rest of the country by at least 10 percentage points.
Furthermore, while nationally 34% of abortion opponents say it’s a critical issue compared with 24% of proponents, in the 18-29 group it’s 45-31, higher in both absolute margin and in ratio.
This trend correlates with increasing opposition to abortion in the US. A Harris Interactive poll from 2006 found that supporters of Roe outnumbered opponents by 2 percentage points, the lowest since Harris started asking that question in 1973. In 1998, Roe polled at 57-41; in 2006, it was down to 49-47.
Attitudes toward abortion itself rather than toward Roe have changed more slowly. In 1993, 35% of respondents wanted to make it harder to get an abortion while 22% wanted to make it easier. By 1998, it was 40-16, and in 2006 it was 40-15.
So age does matter. It does matter that young Americans are far more opposed to abortion than they would be if abortion followed the same progressive dynamic as other social issues, like gay rights.