Look, even evangelicals aren’t that pro-life

Everyone knows the story now. The legislature in Alabama passed an extremely restrictive bill that would make abortion illegal at six weeks even in the case of rape. That’s what struck me as the most bizarre part of the whole thing. I look at abortion data at least every few weeks. People generally don’t love the idea of abortion, but most Americans think it should be legal in some circumstances. The graph below makes that clear.

There is a class of conditions where the vast majority of Americans think that abortion should be a legal option, those include: when the life of the mother is in danger, where there is a serious birth defect in the child, and when the pregnancy was the result of a rape. In each of those cases, about three in four Americans are pro-choice. Whenever other scenarios are presented support does fall. For instance, when the woman isn’t financially capable of caring for a child, the public is evenly split. The same pattern is true when the woman doesn’t want any more children, and is slightly below 50% when the woman is not married to the father of the child. Note, that the Alabama abortion bill would make abortion in all these scenarios (except life of the mother) completely illegal at six weeks gestation.

Evangelicals are usually cast as the most pro-life group by the media, and for good reason. Evangelical doctrine used to be open to abortion in some circumstances, but being pro-life has become an essential part of evangelical theology since the 1990’s. Does that bear out in the data? The answer is: sort of. Evangelicals are clearly less open to abortion rights, but not as dramatically as some would suspect. For instance, two thirds of evangelicals in 2018 think abortion should be allowed in the case of rape. And there isn’t a tremendous difference between evangelicals and non-evangelicals in the situation where the mother’s health is in danger.

I really wanted to go looking for a group of people that would be overjoyed by the Alabama abortion bill’s prohibition on abortion in the case of rape. The above graph is the best that I can do. It visualizes the opposition to abortion in the case of rape by religious attendance among evangelicals. Evangelicals who never attend are on the left, and the most frequent attenders are on the right. Note that about 5% of evangelical Republicans who never attend are opposed to abortion in this scenario. How much does that rise with attendance? Not much. Even among evangelical Republicans who attend church multiple times per week, the percentage who are opposed goes above 35%.

Keep this in mind. The share of the population that is evangelical and Republican and attends church at least once a week is about 5%. And among that 5%, 35% support abortion being made illegal in the case of rape. If Alabama legislators are appealing to a portion of the population, it’s a very small share.

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Eastern Illinois University. Pastor at ABCUSA. I study American politics and religion.

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