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)
  1. myweightinwords

    Legal and available abortion saves lives. Desperate women will find a way to rid themselves of an unwanted pregnancy, whether it is legal or not, and will find infections, bleed-outs and other complications that rob them of their lives or their ability to get pregnant at another time.

    If every pregnancy were to come to full term and result in a child we would run out of room on this planet. We would run out of food. Many hundreds of thousands of those children would die horrible, painful, disgusting deaths from hunger, thirst, neglect, abuse...and while abortion is not an elegant answer, it is a necessary answer.

    Birth control, cheap and easily available along with serious education about s-ex, about pregnancy and the results of pregnancy, need to be a huge part of our educational system. We need to get over our prudish, squeamish reaction to body parts and teach our kids how to avoid pregnancy (not to mention diseases) and stop treating our 16 – 20 year olds as if they are children incapable of choosing s-ex-ual behaviors.

    Make reliable birth control and education available to both young men and young women as well as to the low income, lower-education parts of society at a price that will actually ensure that they can use it. It's the best prevention for abortion.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • wisewordsindeed

      thank you – finally an intelligent post on the subject. I would add not only do we need more education and accessiblity to birth control – but more FAMILY FRIENDLY policies in this country. We are one of the few industrialized nations with no mandatory paid maternity leave. How can you tell a woman to have a child that she can't afford to feed when she has to leave her job to take care of it? HOw about daycare? Healtcare for children and mothers?
      Many women might not choose abortion if they felt there was any kind of support for them if they were to have the child. When those who are against abortion start lobbying for REAL changes, like support for mothers and children, support for maternity leave and child care – when they are ready to support actual policies that will make it easier for a woman to have and raise a child, then we can talk some more about abortion.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      Pertinent research refutes every point you have attempted to make, except the birth control part. However, research also shows that a sliver of those teenagers who use birth control use it as directed every time.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Bill the Human

      It's called a close hanger bro.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Bill the Human

      Excuse me, I meant to say "clothes" hanger.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • myweightinwords


      Yes, thank you. If abortion were only about the act of abortion, I might still stand against it, but it is about so much more.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Bill the Human

      Exactly! Christians must think that people get abortions for the hell of it. If people were walking around killing fetuses just for the sake of it then they'd have a point, but until that happens (and until it is illegal) they should mind their own.

      The big thing about Pro-life that drives me crazy is, nobody is forcing THEM to get an abortion. However, their view point mandates the lives of others. The pro-choice person doesn't obligate anyone to anything.

      Christians: not everyone is a christian. You can't "legislate" your beliefs.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      @Bill the Cat...Birth Control was my point and education about the proper uses of birth control.

      Unless you mean to try to make me believe that women haven't died from botched back alley abortions?

      Or possibly that more people doesn't equal more mouths to feed on an already strained world food supply?

      People die of hunger today. People die because of lack of access to healthcare. Add more bodies to the world and those problems grow with the population count.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • no subsidized babies

      Wise: no one should ever, ever, ever have to support another person's child. If a person is not financially, physically or emotionally capable of raising a child on their own, they should NOT be having one. However, better maternity leave and provision of clean rooms for lactation at work would be highly beneficial. Long maternity leaves should not be paid (that hurts the entire company) but they should be available for those who want them. Want a baby, save up for it first. Kids need to be educated about the realities of having children long before they become capable of making them. I never want to pay for some stupid teen's baby.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Bill the Cat


      Ah.. the old "clothes hanger" myth. For your info, before RvW, over 92% of all abortions were performed in hospitals, and the instances of uterine perforation were well beyond .01% of all reported deaths from "pregnancy related deaths" prior to RvW. You people do not know how to do any research, do you?

      June 9, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Nelson the Cat

      @ Bill the Cat...There are no reliable statistics anywhere in the world on the number of illegal abortions being performed before Roe. No idea where you come up with the statistic that 8% of abortions were happening outside of medical settings, but even if that seemingly low-ball figure is true, it's staggering!. Imagine it! Almost 1 in every 10 women seeking to terminate a pregnancy was forced to do it in some back-alley clinic! and the real numbers were certainly much higher, but there is no way of knowing how high. People don't usually keep careful records on things that are illegal, ya know.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Frogist

      @myweightinwords: The survey also apparently showed that a majority of mainline protestants (85%), Catholics(78%), black protestants (74%) and even evangelicals (62%) support se-x ed in schools. Those are the most uplifting statistics of the survey imho.

      June 10, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  2. Jimbo

    Paying attention republicans? If you don't stop focusing all your attention on socially conservative issues you are going to lose our votes. How am I to support a party that praises small government and wants them out of our lives but then they go around preaching about banning gay marriage, abortions, marijuana and supporting the patriot act. It makes no sense to me. GO RON PAUL!

    June 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  3. JRC123

    Imagine that! The nation's culture is coming in line with the media's/Hollywood's agenda! Who would have thought?

    June 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • JimS.

      Or maybe people aren't as suggestable as you'd like to blame them for; and that "the media" and hollywood are just reflecting chaging and evolving views on these subjects. Ever think that might be going on?

      June 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  4. The Voice of America

    Many of you are no better than the Nazis. Really, you are taking out the word "jew" and inserting "fetus or baby". Pure evil!

    June 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Way to go. Read about the "poisoning the well" fallacy for you own sake.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  5. ImRickJames


    June 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Andrew

      The "Judeo-Christian" worldview or any modern religion for that matter is neither the creator or sole-arbiter of what is moral in humanity.
      Although I am not an Atheist this guys analysis of Atheists as self-loathing people who view themselves as nothing more than "primordial-slime" is offensive and evidence of his elementary understanding of logic.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  6. Slowday

    This article would have been an eye opener........40 years ago. Nuthin' new here.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  7. CSnord

    The problem we have is looking at these issues from the stand point of religion and public policy and being able to separate the two. Abortion is a morally objectionable action and an abhorrent kind of birth control. However, from a public policy perspective, we need abortion to be legal because of the cost of dealing with unwanted children. The public at large is served when an unwanted child is aborted better than if the child is brought to term. The abortion is financially far less burdensome on tax payers and THAT is the criteria that should be used to determine public policy.

    As for gay marriage, get used to it. That train has already left the station. Eventually, gay marriage will be legal throughout the land. We might as well legalize it now and get it out of the policy debate. It is a massively unimportant issue, anyway.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Csnord: I think gay marriage might be a little important to those who still don't have the same rights as straight married couples...

      June 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  8. Robert

    Keep your bible out of people's wombs and out of people's bedrooms. We have no need to base a modern pluralist scientific society on an ancient fairytale.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Chris

      Are you suggesting that religion be banned? The US was in fact founded upon Judeo-Christian morals. Let people live their lives. If you believe that, you are just as bad as the people that say I am going to hell just because i dont go to church every sunday.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Sean

      If you want Judeo-Christian values to take credit for the founding morals of our country, please remember to include slavery, the forced-labor of children and the treatment of women as second-class citizens. Blacks (as well as women and children to a much lesser extent) were actual property. Where can the justification for these atrocities be found?

      June 12, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  9. Jack Spat

    So is the woman at the Northland Church, Sarah Mattingly or Sarah Mattingley?

    June 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  10. YouKnowBetter

    Abortion is a choice that should be between a woman, her doctor and her Creator. It is not my business to decide what is in the best interest of a woman in a difficult (or any for that matter) situation.

    Gay marriage is a choice that should be between two people and their Creator. It is not my business to decide what is in the best interest of two capable adults.

    I wish any woman faced with abortion love and compassion.

    I wish more gay marriages because G-d knows our economy needs gay men throwing huge gala weddings (open bars to of course).

    Luke 6:37-42 [37] "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. [38]

    [41] "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? [42] How can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • The Voice of America

      Try looking at 1 Corinthians chapter 6 buddy.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • YouKnowBetter

      @Voice – Which came first Luke or Corinthians? I think you know the answer to that one. Besides I believe in love and forgiveness, so that is what I focus on. You have every right to focus on judgment and stone throwing, but please keep it in your own yard.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Matt

      Hit it right on...!

      June 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • The Voice of America

      If you were walking down train tracks in a tunnel somewhere and a train was coming from the other direction. Wouldn't you want somebody to tell you?

      June 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Poppy

      I completely agree youknowbetter. Let God judge people for their actions, life is hard enough. As long as a person doesnt hurt any of my rights I could care less what you do.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • YouKnowBetter

      Sorry that is the weakest analogy ever. If a train was actually coming right now there is empirical proof that I could get injured, and so one should warn. But you and the Revelation boys never seem to get that day right, do you hmmm? I guess I could tell each person I run into for my entire life that an alien ship is landing on their house – who knows maybe one day 50 years from now I could be right. Odds are I will just be an annoying pest blowing hot air and would be better served telling it to my dog in my OWN yard, while working on my OWN relationship with my Creator.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • ShellyTea

      YouKnowBetter – your point is right on. I could not have said it better myself.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  11. Michael

    Remember, all morality comes from a magical man in the sky who will kick your face in for disagreeing with him. Therefore adults who love each other shouldn't be able to act on it.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Stephanie

      And who are you to dare changing God's plan anyway? He will show you his love by making you regret it.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Oooooh Steph we are shaking in fear! I guess you think you will be praised for denying innocent people happy lives, some god you believe in.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  12. WWRRD

    Some of these comments from these young peopole are quite thoughtful. ZIt gives me hope for the future.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  13. Commonsensical

    As it relates to the poll, I wish people wouldn't pick and choose.

    "On the question of legality, when controlling for other characteristics, Millennials are surprisingly 1.3 times more likely than older Americans to say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases."

    June 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  14. John

    When are religious people going to realize that they can't force their religious beliefs on everyone. Religion, and I'm religious, is exclusive. If you are not a member you don't get the benefits. The government can't be this way. It must be open to all. I'm not asking your church to marry gay people, I'm not asking my church to marry gay people or to even recognize the marriage. That is their right. I'm saying that when it comes to the government they should have the same rights to marriage as the rest of the country. Leave your religion out of my laws! It gets very simple when you separate church and state. See how that works???

    June 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Burbank

      I agree, religion has no place in government.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • MM

      Government has no place in religion.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Pat Esule

      John, I couldn't have said it better. The combination of religion and government isn't as tasty as a Reeses peanut butter cup.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • JimS.

      Nobody is trying to force government into religion. Nobody is saying religion needs to consider abortion morally acceptable, and nobody is asking churches to ordain gay marriages if they don't want to. See how that works? Easy.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  15. ImRickJames

    😉 🙂 🙂


    June 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Andrew

      The "Judeo-Christian" worldview or any modern religion for that matter is neither the creator or sole-arbiter of what is moral in humanity.
      Although I am not an Atheist this guys analysis of Atheists as self-loathing people who view themselves as nothing more than "primordial-slime" is offensive and evidence of his elementary understanding of logic.

      June 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  16. John

    I really pity those who say that God should be left out of moral discussions. Who or what do you turn to for moral guidance, yourselves? I guess that you just know it all, huh?

    June 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • P

      So all those guys who wrote – and edited – the bible do know everything? It didn't fall from the sky you know.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • John

      You don't need religion to be moral. I know right from wrong without having to read the Bible. It's pretty easy. Plus the government shouldn't be in the business of legislating morality. Ever.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Look who can't think for themselves. John, I guess you would be murdering rapists child molester if it wasn't for the bible. Sheesh.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Geoff

      Save your pity. I could turn that pity around, letting your belief in a bunch of morality stories written by men 1500 years ago. I live by the code of "Do no harm". It is enough of a moral compass that I don't need to invent a parental figure god to threaten me into respecting people and letting them maintain their own lives, as long as they aren't harming others as well.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • scoobers

      @John – so you believe in moral relativism? Therefore if you were raised in a culture where ra-pe & mu-rder were legal then it would be ok also since everyone else does it? If not, then you have no inherent reason for believing anything is right or wrong other than what culture tells you, otherwise who do you think might've implanted an inner sense of right/wrong? God maybe? hmmmm.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      Morality is not dependent on any one god or any one religion. In fact morality is dependent upon the person. To a degree, society plays a role, but ultimately only an individual can decide what is moral and right.

      Last night I witnessed an 8 or 9 year old girl tell a grown man "Don't think being gay is right? Don't be gay." It's a pretty simple concept. Live to your moral code and I'll live to mine, no matter how we each defined them. Society will impose laws for the common good based on the most common of those morals. The gray areas in between the common ones are what lead us into debate.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Bill

      I appreciate your perspective, John, but ethics do exist outside belief in a god. Much of this country's laws were founded on the principles advocated by John Locke, who in turn was influenced by other philosophers, and he proposed the separation of church and state. Turns out that ethics are better derived from rationality than they are from spirituality. For ethics, I say, turn to the wisdom of your fellow man and the brain in your head. Maybe start with Plato and work your up to present day. 🙂

      June 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You are absolutely right!
      If you or I were raised in a culture where r.ape and murder were considered acceptable (such as the culture described in the Old Testament), then it would be "moral".
      Our culture has a very strong cannibalism taboo, but it cannot be "human nature" to feel repulsed by it as virtually every branch of the human species has praticed it at some point in their development.
      The Wari, The Kuru, Fore, Caribs, Fijians, Popayans, Serengipeans, are all fairly modern examples (within the last 500 years).
      The Aztecs believed in transubstantiation. They consumed their human sacrifices in the belief that the dead literally became a part of the God to whom they were given.
      Binerwurs in India ate the sick amongst them to please Kali.
      The Karankawa, an indigenous Texan tribe, ritualistically consumed their enemies to gain their strength.
      Just be thankful that in Catholic culture, the ritual cannibalism is symbolic and not literal!

      June 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Doc Vestibule: Hey leave my Caribs out of this! We ate people... so what... they taste like chicken...

      June 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  17. Cru

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


    On her honeymoon, my newly-wed sister met a gay couple. They still go visit and keep in touch every few weekends. They take their daughter with them. Last time she watched Ponyo while they cooked dinner.

    My niece will grow up thinking they're just good ol' humans. As it should be.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  18. ImRickJames


    June 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  19. Andrea M

    The only time I've questioned my pro choice views was when I found out I should have had an older sibling but my mom aborted it. That was a bit much to wrap my brain around. But in the end, I still think it is cruel to bring an unwanted child into the world who will likely lead an impoverished and difficult life. As for gay marriage, love is love no matter what and we should value that in any way it may be packaged. That Perkins guy is an idiot, we don't need to "protect" our children from gay people. I grew up watching drag queen flicks and I turned out just fine, if a touch flamboyant. I intend to raise my kids the same way and truly I hope that the 1 in 10 is my kid. I know I can raise a gay kid in a very loving home so I hope I'm lucky enough to have that kid instead of some psycho evangelical family who will make their life a living hell.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • The Voice of America

      FACT: It was even more cruel for her to have your sibling sucked out of her womb with a vacuum cleaner hose.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • please

      FACT: The last reply was not a fact.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • The Voice of America

      Oh yes it is. As a 15 year old many years ago, I witnessed an ultrasound of an abortions. Sorry, I will not allow the aweful truth to be covered up.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • UncleM

      @Voice of America – you aren't the voice of America.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Geoff

      You are not the voice of America. You are the voice of you. I am also American, and I am diametrically opposed to your position (probably on a lot of issues as well). Just be content to use your name (or pseudonym) and do not purport to speak for a nation. You don't.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • The Voice of America

      🙂 I was just using it to jerk people's chains around a bit.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • scoobers

      Yea it's cruel to have an unwanted child possibly live an impoverished lifestyle, so murdering it would be the correct response....Lol, I'll never understand a liberal's point of view, completely backwards and makes no sense.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Poppy

      I used to perform abortions on pregnant sows and cows with Lutalyse. It really didnt make me feel bad at all. The reason I did this was to have all the babies born at the same time. it was always such a pain when the babies dont fit into the schedule. It seriously doesnt effect me at all I dont even think of it as killing babies.

      June 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Frogist

      @scoobers: It is hardly all about economic concerns, and bringing to down to that single facet alone is maybe why it doesn't make sense to you.

      June 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  20. KyleGlobal

    Well, and fewer younger people than older people are bigoted against black people as well. The trend is moving the same with gay people. I'm sure you can find a significant number of people over the age of 65 who are still quietly opposed to interracial marriage but probably wouldn't not admit it due to the shame factor. We're moving in the same direction with gay rights and marriage.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
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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.