- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2008

With little media fanfare, Hollywood is creating a new genre of films marketed to the prolific ticket buyers who make up its target demographic, teens and young adults. Though not known as a conservative bastion, the movie industry has always been quick to pick up trends that turn a profit. And among America’s young people, pro-life is in.

Consider the recent sleeper hit “Juno,” the story of a precocious 16-year-old who becomes pregnant following a tryst with her best friend. Juno initially contemplates abortion but hesitates after talking with a pro-life counselor. Juno ultimately decides for life, giving her child to a young couple unable to conceive.

As it climbs the box office charts (currently ranking second in box office revenues and first on Yahoo’s popularity index), and having recently garnered three Golden Globe nominations, Juno is demonstrating that the pro-life message resonates with audiences and critics alike.

But Juno is just one of many recent films—including “August Rush,” “Knocked Up,” “Bella” and “Waitress” — with unmistakable pro-child messages. A series of recent polls illuminates why films like “Juno” are a hit with America’s youth.

• A Harris Poll found 55 percent of “young adults” opposed “abortion rights,” making 18-30 year-olds the age cohort most likely to oppose abortion.

• A survey of 30,000 Missourians found the percentage of “strongly pro-life” teenagers and young adults under 30 years old increased 13 percentage points, from 23 percent to 36 percent, between 1992 and 2006, while self-identified “strongly pro-choice” Missourians under 30 dropped 21 percentage points, from 39 percent to 18 percent.

• A June New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll found a substantial majority (62 percent) of 17- to 29-year-olds felt abortion should either “not be permitted” (24 percent) or “more strictly limited” (38 percent) than it is now.

• A University of California-Los Angeles poll found the share of female college freshmen who supported abortion fell from 68 percent in 1992 to 53 percent in 2004.

• A Hamilton College poll of high school seniors found 72 percent of female students said they would not consider abortion if they became pregnant, and only 13 percent said they would counsel a pregnant friend to consider an abortion.

This sea change in abortion views among America’s youth has helped produce something far more impressive than the recent spate of life-affirming films: a steady decline — 40 percent among states consistently reporting data — in minors’ abortions since 1990. All this begs the question: Why, as they become more liberal on many social issues, are young people becoming more conservative on abortion?

First, there’s what James Taranto has dubbed the “Roe Effect,” a theory explaining abortion’s demographic consequences. Assuming that those who support abortion rights are more likely to abort than those who oppose them, the theory goes, pro-choice parents are, on average, likely to have fewer children than pro-life parents.

Also, given the empirical research demonstrating that children tend to follow their parents’ political and religious leanings, we would expect, as Mr. Taranto has written, “the post-Roe cohort to be more ‘pro-life’ than their elders.”

While the “Roe Effect” is difficult to estimate precisely, as there have been as many as 50 million abortions in the United States since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (more than the combined populations of 25 states), we can assume the effect is significant.

Second, pro-lifers’ embrace of science and technology has been crucial to highlighting the humanity of the unborn child, and thus the brutal reality of abortion. Three- and 4-D ultrasound technologies and fetal pain research have revealed children in the womb as living, breathing, feeling human beings, and at earlier stages than previously imagined possible. As William Saletan said: “Ultrasound has exposed the life in the womb to those of us who didn’t want to see what abortion kills. The fetus is squirming, and so are we.”

Technology’s life-affirming effects have been especially acute for young people, who have grown up in a time when complex, lifesaving surgeries can be performed even before the child is born. News stories featuring the miraculous births of the youngest (21 weeks) and tiniest (10 ounces) babies ever to survive have prompted serious discussions about how dropping fetal viability timeframes are changing how people think about abortion.

Finally, social science continues to underscore a possible causal link between abortion and subsequent depression. The growing number of post-abortive women speaking out about abortion’s negative effects has given young women reason to seriously question the slogan “pro-woman, pro-choice.”

This month, scores of thousands of Americans will march in Washington, D.C., to lament the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide 35 years ago. Bystanders may be struck by the overwhelming youthful tone of the march. But it should not surprise anyone. While the abortion industry has been a financial and political powerhouse for more than a generation, as demonstrated by movies, opinion polls and abortion rates, Generation Next is moving beyond abortion.

Daniel Allott is senior writer and policy analyst at American Values, a public policy institute.

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