Young evangelicals see abortion as social justice issue

May 5, 2008

Young U.S. evangelicals are even more opposed to abortion rights than older evangelicals but their position has different roots that stem from broader notions of social justice, a conference on religion and politics heard on Monday.

Michael Gerson, a former top aide to President George W. Bush who is now on the Council on Foreign Relations, told the conference in Key West, Florida, that “younger evangelicals are more pro-life than their parents. But they tend to view it as a social justice issue.”   

This will raise eyebrows in liberal American or secular European audiences, which view abortion rights as a key component of women’s rights and see attempts to roll them back as reactionary and even atavistic — and hardly linked to notions of social justice.

But the U.S. evangelical movement has been shifting its tone on the abortion issue in recent years and framing it in the language of social justice — a shift that coincides with a broadening of its agenda to include concern about global poverty and demands for action on climate change. 

Some leading and politically engaged evangelicals such as former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee have compared today’s anti-abortion movement to the anti-slavery crusades of the 18th and 19th centuries, which were often led by evangelicals.

It remains to be seen how this framing of the debate works but there is little doubt that it is an interesting new development on the front lines of America’s culture wars and one to keep an eye on.

The conference Gerson was addressing was organized by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.  It found in a survey last year that “70 percent of younger white evangelicals favor ‘making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion,’ compared with 55 percent of older white evangelicals and 39 percent of young Americans overall who share this view.”

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