The Awakening of the Silent Majority: First on Abortion, Next on Marriage


In spite of the fact that SCOTUS has failed the American people by choosing not to protect the institution of the family, marriage supporters have every reason to keep up the fight — just examine the pro-life movement.

The history of the pro-life movement demonstrates that Roe v. Wade did not at all end the war about abortion. Rather, Roe v. Wade stirred the pot, and awakened the silent pro-life majority. What is more, Roe v. Wade successfully showed apathetic civilians the true horrors of abortion, and brought more people to the pro-life movement than there had ever been before.

ThinkstockPhotos-153902795Obergefell v. Hodges is poised to do the exact same favors for the pro-marriage movement. Through a historical study of the pro-life movement, Michael J. New demonstrates why, despite popular opinion being contrariwise, the pro-marriage movement has every hope of becoming stronger:

Someone analyzing the GSS in 1975 might have gotten the impression that in the pro-choice position lay America’s future. In fact, countless surveys showed that young adults were far more likely to support legal abortion than the elderly. But someone analyzing the GSS forty years later could be excused for drawing a very different conclusion. Indeed, the GSS shows that young adults are actually the most pro-life age demographic. Supporters of traditional marriage should take comfort in this fact; it is reasonable to hope that the marriage situation—both culturally and legally—will improve, grim as the present outlook might seem.

The supporter of male-female marriage should draw three important lessons from these four decades of GSS survey data. First—and unsurprisingly—people often change their opinions over the course of their lifetimes; people become more “pro-choice” during their 30s and more “pro-life” during their 50s. This point coheres with the truism, supported by other significant research, that people often become more conservative with age.

Second, national opinion trends can change as well. For instance, one can see from the GSS that, in the 1990s, the debate over partial-birth abortion increased pro-life sentiment among nearly all demographic groups. Other surveys show that during that time period, a higher percentage of Americans came to consider abortion morally wrong, and believed that abortion should be banned in all circumstances. A September 1995 Gallup poll showed that only 33 percent of Americans identified as “pro-life.” That figure reached 51 percent in a Gallup poll taken in May 2009.

Third—and this is the most important—there can be surprising shifts in opinion even within demographic groups. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the GSS survey results consistently revealed that eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds were more supportive of legal abortion than was any other age cohort. But starting around the year 2000, this group became the most pro-life age cohort—more pro-life, even, than senior citizens.

What caused these unexpected shifts in public opinion on the abortion issue? The political pundits of the seventies foresaw neither the reality of legal abortion in the United States nor the effectiveness of incremental pro-life legislation.

. . .

When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, no one could have predicted the developments that shifted public opinion in a more pro-life direction. Abortion opinion trends during the past forty years should offer some reassurance to supporters of traditional marriage. It’s hard to anticipate how reality will turn around and confront public opinion, but the truth often has a way of revealing itself. Demography today is not necessarily destiny tomorrow.

To read the full article, please visit The Public Discourse.

Copyright 2015