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Exactly 42 years have passed since the Supreme Court affirmed a woman's right to an abortion in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, but the issue continues to generate controversy among young people.

Where the percentage of young adults who support gay marriage has skyrocketed - eight out of 10 adults under 30 support same-sex marriage - the same cannot be said for abortion.


In fact, young people have become more conservative on whether a woman should have the legal right to an abortion, according to Gallup. During the early to mid 1990s, more than a third believed in the right to an abortion under any circumstance. A decade and a half later, fewer than a quarter felt the same. The number of young people who think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances increased too.

Why, when views on other social issues like gay marriage have evolved so dramatically, have views on abortion remained so steadfast?


Lindsay Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the National Network of Abortion Funds, a network of groups that help pay for abortions, said during a recent call with reporters that, with gay marriage, "people know people in their lives, whereas with abortion, everybody knows someone but not everybody knows that they know someone."

Abortion rates have also declined dramatically since 1980, thanks to more comprehensive sex education and better access to birth control, which may have limited the issue's visibility, while gay marriage rates have risen as more states have legalized same-sex unions.


Kalpana Krishnamurthy, policy director for the pro-choice advocacy organization Forward Together, added that there is a reluctance to be open about personal abortion stories because "people are afraid of facing judgement," which can range from self-judgement (feelings of guilt) to criticism from family and the broader community.

Abortion opponents have also become particularly vocal in recent years, in part due to a 2010 wave that swept anti-abortion Tea Party politicians into office and sparked a slew of abortion restriction proposals at both the state and federal level. Just this week, Republicans planned to introduce a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks.


Jeanne Monahan, head of the March for Life, an annual pro-life, anti-abortion rally, thinks young people are attracted to the issue of abortion as a social justice and human rights issue.

"Abortion, in my opinion, is the human rights issue of today," she told Fusion.

Arina Grossu, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity, a conservative, anti-abortion organization, thinks the fact that advances in science and ultrasound imaging have allowed people to see fetal development has swayed young people, as have media reports about Kermit Gosnell.


Today's young adults, she added, are the children of women who may have had abortions.

"They're feeling these shockwaves of abortion," she said. "You have the loss of life that has happened in the last 42 years and we're feeling that. The classrooms are not as full as they could have been."

Still, advocates like Krishnamurthy say the renewed fervor from opponents has catalyzed a diverse coalition to speak out in favor of abortion rights.


"It's no secret that these restrictions fall hardest on the families who are struggling to get by," she said. "We're seeing really brave, renewed conversations coming up everywhere."

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.