Where do American teens currently stand on the topic of abortion? The 2003 Gallup Youth Survey* found that while a majority of teens (aged 13 to 17) do find abortion acceptable, a full third (33%) believe that it should be illegal in all circumstances. Approximately one-fifth of teens support the legality of abortion under any circumstances (21%), while twice that number (45%) believe it should be legal only under certain circumstances.
Abortion is frequently framed as a "women's issue," but Gallup data indicate that teen opinions on abortion do not vary significantly between girls and boys. Thirty-five percent of girls believe abortion should be illegal under any circumstances, while 32% of boys feel the same way. Twenty-three percent of boys believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances, compared to 19% of girls.
Regional and Political Differences
Given that abortion is among the most politicized of issues, do teen attitudes vary by regions of the country -- for example, do teens in the Bible Belt tend to have different opinions from those on the East or West Coasts? To some extent, that appears to be the case: teens living in the Northeastern and Western regions of the country are generally more open to the legality of abortion than those in the Midwest and South. Twenty-nine percent of Western teens believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, as do 26% of Northeastern teens, 35% of Southern teens, and 39% of Midwestern teens. Similarly, while less than one-fifth of young people in the Midwest (19%) and the South (18%) believe that abortion should be legal under any circumstances, 26% of Western youth and 22% of Northeastern youth hold the same view.
Although the teens who participated this study are not old enough to vote, Gallup asked respondents whether they would vote Republican, Democrat, or independent once they are old enough. Almost two times as many future Democrats as future Republicans believe that abortion should be legal under any circumstances -- 26% compared to 14%. Those who said they would probably be independents (24%) are similar to future Democrats in their views.
As might be anticipated, teens' levels of religious beliefs and practices affect their views regarding abortion. Those who said they had attended church or synagogue in the last seven days were much more likely than non-churchgoers to oppose legalized abortion. Only 11% of regular churchgoers agreed that abortion should be legal under any circumstances, compared to 28% of those who did not attend church or synagogue in the past seven days. Likewise, almost half (45%) of those who attended church or synagogue said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, compared to only 24% of those who did not attend religious services in the past week.
Abortion remains a controversial topic regardless of its current legal status -- and young people are by no means immune to the controversy. With a full third of this young generation holding the belief that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances and almost another half wanting to place parameters around when it should be legal, abortion seems to be poised to remain an extremely contentious issue in the years to come.
*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 1,200 respondents aged 13 to 17 between Jan. 23 and Feb. 10, 2003. For a complete description of the sampling and weighting procedures used to conduct the survey, click here.