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Does LUC’s Abortion Debate Reflect the Nation’s?

 

The student body at Loyola University is a microcosm for the nation’s debate on abortion. Photo by Amerique

 

In recent years Loyola Students for Life, a pro-life student organization, has grown steadily. The March for Life protest in January of 2011 attracted 8 Loyola students. In January of 2012, 38 students went. And in January of 2013, 61 students attended, according to Kevin Grillot, the campus mentor for Loyola Students for Life. March for Life is the annual pro-life rally in Washington D.C. that protests current abortion policies. While the pro-life movement may be growing at Loyola, is this trend reflective of the views and sentiments of other college students and adults around the country?

The 40th anniversary of the controversial Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, the case that made abortion legal, was in January of this year. Four decades after the decision was handed down, the debate surrounding abortion is as heated as ever before. Young people played a critical role in the last presidential election and social issues were a powerful impetus to head to the voting booth.

Most assume that people of college-going age are the most liberal demographic when it comes to social issues, so the increase in participation when it comes to the pro-life movement on Loyola’s campus might strike some as unusual. Also, the pro-choice movement does not have any formal, active representation among the student body.

The stories of the pro-life and pro-choice movements have evolved over many years. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in January of 2003 revealed only 39 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 thought that an abortion should be legal for those who wanted to have one. The same study found that the number went down from 48 percent of people of the same age group in 1993.

In 1993, experts in social sciences cited a number of reasons for the shift. One was the framing of abortion as an ethical issue rather than a rights issue. For college students at the time of that survey, and for college students today, abortion has always been a legal option. As a result, the fervor that once fueled Roe v. Wade had faded.

Single parenthood and adoption, once stigmatized as an option only for infertile couples or a means to saving poor children, both became more widely accepted. This eliminated two powerful social factors that might make a woman choose an abortion. As Grillot put it, “Students now are responding in a post-abortive culture.” According to Grillot, this means that other options are now more desirable to mothers with unintended pregnancies.

This trend continued for several years. As recently as 2009, a Pew Research Center poll found that support for legal abortion was slipping among all adults with 54 percent saying it should be illegal in all or most cases. Some experts suspect that those figures are a reaction to the election of a pro-choice president.

Then something changed. In the 2012 presidential election, abortion, which had remained relatively low on the national priorities list for years, became one of the prime topics of debate. And while it shows no signs of going away anytime soon, the discussion has once again changed course. In January of this year, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 7 in ten Americans believe Roe v. Wade should be upheld. This is the highest level of support for abortion since polls began tracking it in 1989. About 54 percent of the people polled in 2012 thought that abortion should be legal in all or some cases.

A different study by the Pew Research Center released similar findings, stating that 63 percent of adults do not wish to overturn Roe v. Wade. But this study also uncovered another generational division when it comes to the famous Supreme Court decision. It learned that for people under the age of 30, only 44 percent know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion as opposed to some other issue. The level of a person’s education seems to be huge factor when considering this knowledge base. For respondents with post-graduate education, 91 percent knew the subject matter of the case as did 79 percent of college graduates.

The tension between the opposing views is an inherent part of the conversation at Loyola and at other schools around the country. And considering the population at a Catholic university, it can be an even more challenging one. LSFL has kept with contemporary philosophy, which emphasizes the ethics of the dialogue.  “They learn to open dialogue with dignity for each individual and not to elicit anger, hate, rage. Really upholding each person’s dignity,” said Grillot, referencing members of LSFL.

Regardless of national findings, the movement on Loyola’s campus continues its expansion. Some might assume that Loyola’s Catholic affiliation, which it shares with many of its students, has something to do with this. However, according to a survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, Catholic students, whether attending Catholic or nonsectarian colleges, tended to grow more liberal on the issue of abortion by the time they were seniors. Only 37.9 percent of freshman at Catholic universities supported legal abortion, compared to 51.7 percent of seniors at those same schools. Though the number increases throughout college life, the number in support of abortion is below the national average of about 70 percent.

“A lot of our members are Catholic…but Loyola Students for Life, is not specifically a Catholic group. Many are founded in science and philosophy, which is different than theology,” said Anna Slater, the vice president of LSFL.

A combination of new outreach initiatives by LSFL and the renewed interest in the topic are probably the two factors that have most contributed to the group’s growth. LSFL produced and distributed a new pamphlet with information about the organization this year, and sponsored activism days to raise awareness of its cause.

“I think it’s really been mentorship, in formal and informal ways. If you look at our group…our entire executive board is sophomores. There was this gap with the senior class now. When they first started there was almost no one. Something that’s really helped is really solidifying what we believe as far as celebrating life and fostering a culture of life. We’re not an anti-abortion group, we’re a pro-life group” said Slater.

  • written by mlerma on May 11th, 2013
  • posted in News Editing
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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.