Young People Are Shifting Left on Abortion

The percentage of young adults saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases has risen 10 percentage points since 2015.


Paul Christian Gordon/ZUMA Press/Newscom

A new poll suggests that young Americans are becoming more liberal about abortion as they age. According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds say they have become more supportive of abortion rights in recent years; only nine percent have become less supportive.

This stands in contrast to baby boomers and older Americans. Among respondents age 65 and up, only six percent tell PRRI they've recently become more supportive of abortion access; 12 percent are more opposed. "The relative stability of attitudes in the general public towards the legality and availability of abortion over the past few years has masked a growing polarization of opinion between younger and older Americans," says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones in a press release.

The 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed (a mix of younger millennials and elder Gen Z) were also significantly more likely than their oldest counterparts to agree that at least some health care providers in their community should provide abortions: 69 percent versus 46 percent.

Millennials and Gen Z have gained a reputation in recent years for being "more pro-life" than previous generations at their age, but this has always been a bit of a mischaracterization. What many surveys showed was young adults with more nuanced—and confused—views on abortion than could be easily captured by the old pro-choice/pro-life binary. In one 2014 study, PRRI found that 65 percent of millennials said the term pro-life describes them "at least somewhat well" while 74 percent of this same survey respondents said the term pro-choice describes them well. And while 52 percent said abortion is "morally wrong" (compared to only 36 percent that said was "morally acceptable"), slightly more—55 percent—agreed that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.

The latest PRRI survey suggests that some of this ambiguity around abortion is shifting. In the most recent poll, just 44 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say that abortion goes against their personal morals. (For respondents 65 and up, the number is 60 percent.) And 65 percent agreed that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, up from 55 percent in a 2015 PRRI poll of millennials.