Changing attitudes among young people offer hope in seeing Australia follow America’s shift towards pro-life views, according to Australian anti-abortion groups.
A recent Gallup poll showed that the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as pro-choice has hit a record low of 41 per cent, while 50 per cent of Americans now declare they are pro-life. All US demographic groups, apart from Americans with no religious attachment, are trending towards greater pro-life views.
By contrast Australian polls carried out in recent years tend to show that 60-80 per cent of people are generally in favour of abortion, according to Emily’s Voice CEO, Paul O’Rourke. “We are actually trending the other way,” he says.
“The majority of Australians believe it’s a woman’s choice but they also believe that women should get independent counselling and find out about alternatives.”
The American Gallup Poll surveyed 1,024 adults from all US states this year and found the proportion of Americans identifying themselves as ‘pro-choice’ had dropped from 47 per cent last July to 41 per cent in May 2012.
This is the lowest number since Gallup began asking Americans to define themselves as ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ on abortion in 1995. In that year and up until 1998 there was a significant lead for the ‘pro-choice’ position (a lead of 23 per cent in 1995). The previous record low for the ‘pro-choice’ stance of 42 per cent was recorded in May 2009. At that time there was also a ‘pro-life’ spike of 51 per cent – one percentage point higher than in the recent poll.
In Australia there are no regular national polls on the issue of abortion and it has a much lower profile on the political agenda. However, both O’Rourke and NSW Right to Life executive officer Adrian Middeldorp believe that Australia will eventually follow America’s ‘pro-life’ trend.
“I believe we’re seeing a change. We’re starting to get a younger generation who are actually thinking differently about this issue and doctors coming through who are questioning what they are being told about abortion being just another medical procedure,” says Middeldorp.
Emily’s Voice, an organisation aimed at getting everyday people to ‘fall in love with the unborn’, is also drawing hope from the attitudes of young people. The organisation has run a series of ‘not born yet’ television advertisements in the Toowoomba region in the last three years, with a February Galaxy poll showing a marked change in community attitudes to abortion.
O’Rourke says the poll showed only 36 per cent of Toowoomba residents were in favour of abortion, compared with the State and national averages of more than 60 per cent. The 16-24 year-old age group proved the most likely to change their minds on abortion, with 22 per cent saying they had changed their views as a result of the advertisements.
“What it showed is that young people are willing to engage and think about the issue. They are very open and if you engage they will respond.”
Now the advertisements have been shown to be effective, Emily’s Voice will look at rolling them out in regional centres and then in capital cities over the next few years.
O’Rourke believes that ‘pro-life’ attitudes can be increased in Australia through effective advertising, the promotion of alternatives such as adoption, more support services for women, ultrasounds of unborn children, and independent counselling.
“We can certainly change culture but there’s got to be a new way of doing it and that new way is to support women during what is a difficult time, “ says O’Rourke. “The other thing that will change the whole issue is to show the short and long-term effects on the psychological health of men and women as a result of abortion.”
Middeldorp says Australians think about abortion a bit differently to Americans. “It’s very much a public debating point with the United States, centred around the Roe versus Wade decision. In Australia we don’t have that same explicit place in time.” Middeldorp believes that better education about the beginning of life and better support for women are key factors in changing Australian views on abortion.