Ashley McGuire is just 30, but she’ll feel like a senior citizen at Friday’s March for Life, which will be teeming with pro-life teenagers and millennials on the National Mall.
“It’s like a rock concert. I mean, I’m starting to feel old,” says Ms. McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, with a laugh. “You see these teenagers — they’re organized and they have these chants and slogans, and these really well-designed, edgy, thoughtful posters.”
Her experience at the last few rallies backs up what polling reveals: that the under-35 generation may be more liberal than their parents on social issues such as gay marriage, but not when it comes to abortion.
A 2013 Quinnipiac Poll found 24 percent of those ages 18 to 29 agreed that abortion should be “illegal in most cases,” the highest percentage of any age group except those 65 and over. From 1991 to 2010 the percentage of adults under 29 who favor keeping abortion legal in all circumstances fell from 36 percent to 24 percent, according to the Gallup Poll.
Meanwhile, a Marist Poll released Wednesday found that 54 percent of millennials favor limiting abortion to cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother; 76 percent would restrict abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, and 66 percent oppose taxpayer funding, according to Students for Life of America.
“This generation is pro-life — just look at the March for Life and sea of young people that go every year,” said the Thursday post on Students for Life website. “Look at our 930 student pro-life groups on college and high school campuses.”
Pro-choice advocates counter with other polls, such as a 2015 Gallup Poll showing that 35 percent of those 18 to 34 identify as pro-choice, about the same as the percentage in the 35-to-55-year-old group.
At the same time, Democrats and feminists have lamented the lack of pro-choice fervor among young women, who have never known a time when abortion was not legal.
“Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided,” said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a Jan. 6 New York Times interview.
The March for Life, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion, has another cause for celebration: The number of abortions continues a decline that began in 1991. Since 2010 abortion procedures have dropped by about 12 percent, and the decline has occurred both in states with more restrictions as well as those with fewer, The Associated Press reported.
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, attributed the pro-life enthusiasm among millennials in large part to science and technology. Those under 35 grew up in the era of ultrasound, when photos of themselves and their siblings in utero were pressed into baby books and posted on the refrigerator.
Advances in medicine that have allowed doctors to save more premature babies, along with studies examining the age at which the fetus can feel pain, have also bolstered the pro-life movement.
“Young people have grown up in a sort of tech-savvy world,” said Ms. Mancini. “They’re very digitally engaged, and they’re used to having pictures for everything, and so the fact that you can see or hear a heartbeat very early kind of rebuts this position that, ‘Oh, it’s a blob of tissue.’ The pictures say something else.”
Ms. McGuire describes those under 35 as the “ultrasound generation.”
“They can now do 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds where you can see what the baby [will look like] outside the womb,” said Ms. McGuire. “It’s actually unscientific to say, ‘That’s not life.’”
On high school and college campuses, she said, abortion is being viewed increasingly as a human rights issue.
“We’re also the social justice generation,” said Ms. McGuire. “We view it through that lens.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, some of the pro-life movement’s most visible leaders are under 35, including the Center for Medical Progress’ David Daleiden, who’s 26, and Live Action’s Lila Rose, 26, who founded the group when she was 15.
Mr. Daleiden’s group released a series of undercover videos with Planned Parenthood officials. One striking aspect of the videos is the relative youth of the undercover investigators posing as fetal tissue company representatives, who appear to be recent college graduates.
Former NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan referenced the age issue before she stepped down in 2013, saying in a Washington Post interview that she was troubled by the “intensity gap” between older women and millennials.
In 2010 she famously told Newsweek that she was stunned by the crowd of 400,000 at a previous March for Life in Washington, D.C., saying, “I just thought, ‘My gosh, they are so young.’ There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
More recently, pro-choice groups have moved to destigmatize abortion by, for example, asking women to post stories describing their abortion experiences, but Ms. Mancini says she doubts millennials will be persuaded.
“I don’t think it’s their marketing or recruitment, it’s the product,” Ms. Mancini said. “Young people can see through something that isn’t true and isn’t empowering. Young people see abortion as the human rights abuse of today, and they’re really the best ambassadors for life because they haven’t been jaded, they’re not cynical, and their energy and love for life is just contagious.”