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Conscience. 1984 Jul-Aug;5(4):6-7, 10.

Catholic attitudes toward abortion.



In the US attitudes toward abortion in the 1980s seem to have reached a more liberal plateau, much more favored than in the 1960s or earlier, but not longer moving in a liberal direction. Catholic attitudes basically have followed the same trend. Traditionally Catholic support has been slightly lower than Protestant, and both are less inclined to support abortion than Jews or the nonreligious. During the 1970s support among non-black Catholics averaged about 10 percentage points below non-black Protestants. Blacks tend to be anti-abortion and thereby lower support among Protestants as a whole. A comparison of Protestants and Catholics of both races shows fewer religious differences -- about 7 percentage points. There are some indications that this gap may be closing. In 1982, for the 1st time, support for abortions for social reasons, such as poverty, not wanting to marry, or not wanting more children, was as high among Catholics as among Protestants. 1 of the factors contributing to this narrowing gap has been the higher level of support for abortion among younger Catholics. Protestants show little variation on abortion attitudes, with those over age 65 being slightly less supportive. Among Catholics, support drops rapidly with age. This moderate and possibly vanishing difference between Catholics and Protestants contrasts sharply with the official positions of their respective churches. The Catholic Church takes an absolute moral position against abortion, while most Protestant churches take no doctrinaire position on abortion. Several, such as the Unitarians and Episcopalians, lean toward a pro-choice position as a matter of social policy, though fundamentalist sects take strong anti-abortion stances. Few Catholics agree with their church's absolutist anti-abortion position. The big split on abortion comes between what are sometimes termed the "hard" abortion reasons -- mother's health endangered, serious defect in fetus, rape, or incest. Support among Catholics for "hard" reasons ranges from about 80-88%. Abortion for social reasons such as poverty or not wanting additional children ranges from 35-50%. Catholic support for abortion also varies by geographical region, community type, and ethnic group. Support tends to be strongest in the Northeast, in large cities, and among descendants of immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe, and France. Support is weakest among Catholics in the Southwest, in small towns or rural areas, and among the Irish and Hispanics, especially Mexican-Americans. Among Catholics, many factors cause opinion to deviate from the national average. A 2nd major political implication is the comparative dedication or commitment of supporters and opponents. Analysis of election returns in 1978 in particular failed to demonstrate any measurable anti-abortion vote, but this does not mean that in a particular constituency it could not be made a serious issue.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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