Survey: Millennials echo parents on abortion, much more supportive of gay marriage
June 9th, 2011
01:46 PM ET

Survey: Millennials echo parents on abortion, much more supportive of gay marriage

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - Ask Sarah Mattingly for the first word that comes to mind when she hears the word "abortion," and she heaves a huge sigh.

Then there's a long pause before she answers: "Sadness."

Mattingly works at Northland Church, an evangelical megachurch in Orlando, Florida, and she regularly passes an abortion clinic on her way to work.

"There are always picketers. The parking lot is always full. I see these women sitting in their cars and just feel full of sadness," she says.

There's no doubt in her mind that abortion is wrong: "not what God has ordained."

And yet, she says, she's not entirely convinced abortion should be against the law.

"I know a lot of people my age who struggle with that - who say we will never agree with it, but at what point is it the government's responsibility?" she asks. "I would tend to say I think it should be illegal, but I can see both sides of the story. It's a tough one."

Mattingly is part of what's being called the millennial generation, born in the 1980s and coming of age around the year 2000.

A huge new survey finds that she is not alone among her peers in feeling conflicted about abortion.

Just under half of 18- to 29-year-olds say that abortion is morally acceptable, but six out of 10 say it should be legal in most or all cases, and nearly seven out of 10 say it should be available locally.

The survey, by the Public Religion Research Institute, contains a number of startling findings.

One is that millennials are not significantly more supportive of abortion rights than their parents are, even though they tend to be better educated and less churchgoing - factors which tend to predict people are pro-choice.

There's no noticeable difference in the number of 20-year-olds and 50-year-olds who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, for example, according to the PRRI.

But young people do break ranks with their elders on the other major "value voters" issue, gay marriage.

Only four out of 10 millennials say sex between adults of the same gender is morally wrong, about 60% of 50- to 64-year-olds say that, and seven out of 10 people 65 and older think it is.

The millennials are driving a massive shift in American views on gay marriage.

In 1999, just over one-third of Americans said gay marriage should be legal. Today, just over half do, according to the PRRI survey, which is consistent with other recent findings.

Views on abortion, by contrast, haven't budged in the last dozen years, with 57% of Americans saying in 1999 that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 56% saying so in the PRRI survey.

"The decoupling of attitudes on abortion and same-sex marriage suggest that these topics, which served in the past as the heart of the 'values' agenda, are no longer necessarily linked in the minds of Americans," says the survey, which was released Thursday.

It's called "Committed to Availability, Conflicted About Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells Us about the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars," and is based on 3,000 English and Spanish telephone interviews conducted in April and May.

One of America's most prominent cultural conservatives admits that when it comes to gay marriage, the movement is not as influential on young people as it would like to be.

"There's a lot of ground to make up there," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based organization that promotes "marriage and family" and opposes abortion.

He disputes the PRRI findings on abortion, asserting that "young people are stronger in their pro-life views than their parents."

But he concedes that conservatives haven't had a similar impact on young people's views on homosexuality.

"Cultural influencers have weighed in heavily" in favor of gay marriage, he said.

But the millennial generation could well change its mind as it grows up and starts families, he said.

"There is certainly this live-and-let-live attitude, but once the younger generation gets married and has children it falls by the wayside out of a necessity to protect their children," Perkins predicted. "They begin to re-evaluate the value construct."

Back at Northland Church, Sarah Mattingly is torn about gay marriage the same way she is about abortion. Married to a musician who works in musical theater, she and her husband have gay friends.

"Again, I don't agree with it, I really don't," she says of gay marriage. "God specifically in his word has ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman. But at what point is it the government's responsibility to step in?"

She thinks gay marriage is "misguided," and feels the "church and believers" need to be involved.

"We would never say that this is a good thing in the sense that we don't like it, we wish it didn't exist. But the reality is, it does," she says.

And she as she wrestles with whether the government should let gay people marry, she can't come up with a definite answer: "I can answer yes and I can answer no to that."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Abortion • Gay marriage • Politics • Polls

soundoff (584 Responses)
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    June 13, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  3. Paul

    My opinion on the millinial generation that we are a more tolorable group of people that have noticed something our parents didnt. That there is a differance between church and state, its not the place of radicalist church goers to poke their noses in other people's buisness and infringe on their rights.

    July 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  4. Coloradonative54321

    I am so excited for what this generation has in store for the world!! 🙂

    July 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  5. cpmondello

    "...and now all the sudden because a minority, an influential minority, has a push or agenda ... and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country,"

    ~ NY Giants Receiver David Tyree, on how minorities getting equality causes anarchy and destruction of a country. The same type of words spoken when his ancestors were trying to become equal to White People.

    June 17, 2011 at 6:43 am |
  6. Friend

    Racists and slave-drivers were better than Sodomites and baby-murderers.

    June 11, 2011 at 4:22 am |
    • just a few questions

      why compare racists and slave drivers with what you call sodomists and baby killers?

      June 12, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • Sean

      Because it's easier than thinking.

      June 13, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  7. Friend

    Young people, be humble. You are always worse than your parents.

    June 11, 2011 at 4:20 am |
  8. Friend

    The hedonistic media succeeded to brainwash the millennials better than the pre-war Germany polluted its youth. Once again the Bible-literate Christians have to suffer by dealing with these stupid secular Westerners who never learned anything from the two world wars last century. Welcome the new generation of self-smart stupidity – the millennials.

    June 11, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • just a few questions

      what does the pro-choice movement have in common with the hilter youth? And what do the two world wars have to do with abortion or gay marriage? How are these issues connected to the humanist movements? What role do you think the bible should play in a secular western industrial nation such as the US?

      June 12, 2011 at 7:01 am |
  9. Friend

    These stupid young Millennials are nothing new. The pre-war Europe had plenty of this kind of humanists everywhere. Too bad for the victimized Jews, but you know, you can't help it. You always can't help when people are another's victims or private matters, you know... If one does not stand on the sound Biblical Truth, it is guanranteed he or she commits atrocities one way or another. Present millennials are a dangerous species to today's children as the pre-war Europeans were to the Jews.

    June 11, 2011 at 4:11 am |
    • just a few questions

      where are you from?

      June 12, 2011 at 7:02 am |
    • Free

      Wouldn't Jesus have still been within these people's age bracket when he started his public career? I wonder how many of his parent's generation waged the finger of conservatism against him too?

      When it comes to Hitler, weren't the 'conservative' Germans the ones who made the bulk of the Nazi party? Really, buddy, you are so out of the ballpark you're not even playing the same game as the rest of us.

      June 13, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  10. WeLoveYou



    June 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  11. Reality

    The reality of the abortion and STD epidemics:

    o The numbers, the calculations and two "bottom liners":

    "Facts on Co-ntraceptive Use


    January 2008


    • 62 million U.S. women (and men?) are in their childbearing years (15–44).[1]
    • 43 million women (and men) of reproductive age, or 7 in 10, are se-xually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they or their partners fail to use a contraceptive method.[2]
    • The typical U.S. woman (man?) wants only 2 children. To achieve this goal, she (he?) must use contraceptives for roughly 3 decades.[3]

    • Virtually all women (98%) aged 15–44 who have ever had inte-rcourse have used at least one contraceptive method.[2](and men?)
    • Overall, 62% of the 62 million women aged 15–44 are currently using one.[2] (and men)
    • 31% of the 62 million women (and men?) do not need a method because they are infertile; are pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant; have never had inter-course; or are not s-exually active.[2]
    • Thus, only 7% of women aged 15–44 are at risk of unwanted pregnancy but are not using contraceptives.[2] (and men?)
    • Among the 42 million fertile, s-exually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing contraception.[2] (and men?)

    • 64% of reproductive-age women who practice contraception use reversible methods, such as oral contraceptives or condoms. The remaining women rely on female or male sterilization.[2]

    Percentage of women (men?) experiencing an unplanned pregnancy (a few examples)
    Method ....... Typical
    Pill (combined) 8.7
    Tubal sterilization 0.7
    Male condom 17.4
    Vas-ectomy 0.2
    Periodic abstinence 25.3
    Calendar 9.0
    Ovulation Method 3.0
    Sympto-thermal 2.0
    Post-ovulation 1.0
    No method 85.0"
    (Abstinence) 0
    (Mas-turbation) 0

    More facts about co-ntraceptives from

    Con-traceptive method use among U.S. women who practice con-traception, 2002
    Method ..... No. of users (in 000s) ...... % of users

    Pill 11,661 30.6
    Male condom 6,841 18.0

    The pill fails to protect women 8.7% during the first year of use (from the same reference previously shown).
    0.087 (failure rate)
    x 62 million (# child bearing women)
    x 0.62 ( % of these women using contraception )
    x 0.306 ( % of these using the pill) =
    1,020,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of pill use.

    For male condoms (failure rate of 17.4 and 18% use level):

    1,200,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of male condom use.

    The Guttmacher Insti-tute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate
    (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

    o Bottom Line #1: The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

    Bottom line #2-
    Currently, a perfect birth control/STD barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one! In the meantime, mono-ma-sturbation or mutual ma-sturbation are highly recommended for hete-rose-xuals who need a contraceptive. Abstinence is another best-solution but obviously the se-x drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?

    June 10, 2011 at 7:35 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.