As we reflect on the 40th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, the fact that young Americans are unaware of the significance of the ruling – let alone, what it involves – is quite startling.
A Pew Center poll released earlier this month found that only 44 percent of adults under the age of 30 know that Roe dealt with the issue of abortion rights. More disturbingly, one in three young adults believe that the case pertains to another issue, such as the death penalty, environmental protection or school desegregation. Overall, 62 percent of Americans could correctly identify Roe as a case dealing with abortion rights.
One possible theory behind these distressing statistics is that Millennials are the first generation fully raised in an era in which abortions were legal. As long as we have been alive women have had the ability to terminate a pregnancy for any reason within the first three months (and then potentially afterwards, depending on the individual state’s laws).We weren’t alive when activists were fighting in courts either for or against the right to terminate a pregnancy.
It could explain why, for example, Planned Parenthood reported a record year for abortions in 2012.
Or how the Pew study found that a whopping 74 percent of Americans aged 50 to 64 – the group of Americans who were in high school or college when the decision came down in 1973 – knew that Roe dealt with abortion rights.
It’s interesting to note as well that a full third of Millennials think that Roe deals with something else, like school segregation (Brown v. Board of Education anyone!) or the death penalty. In comparison, only approximately 13 percent of Americans above the age of 30 believe that Roe dealt with one of those issues.
A possible side-effect of America’s youth not knowing what Roe stands for is that they are also less likely than their elder counterparts to believe that abortion rights is a critical issue. Only 13 percent of Millennials said that abortion rights consider the issue to be critical to them when determining how to vote, compared to the 62 percent who are indifferent to the issue. This is rather low compared to seniors, of whom 25 percent say that abortion is a top issue.