How many atheists are pro-life?

Secular Pro-Life
Secular Pro-Life began in 2009 as an initiative to mobilize individuals who disagreed with abortion but claimed no religious identity. |

Most people think pro-lifers are politically conservative Roman Catholics and evangelicals, but among the movement's supporters are atheists and those on the left, according to data.

In a Wednesday post on the Religion in Public blog, Ryan P. Burge, a professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, unpacked the data about the political and religious demographics in the pro-life movement in light of a unique angle explored in a Jan. 19 Atlantic article: "What It's Like for Secular, Liberal Pro-lifers at the March for Life" in Washington, D.C. 

A sign held by one secular pro-lifer at this year's march, the Atlantic observed, read "Secular Pro-life: For the Embryology Textbook Tells Me So," a play on the chorus of "Jesus Loves Me."

Burge explained that, according to 2016 survey data, nearly 55 percent of conservatives said they agreed with four or five of the following propositions: opposition to always allowing a woman to obtain an abortion as a matter of choice; support for prohibiting abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy; allowing employers to decline coverage of abortions in insurance plans; prohibiting use of federal monies funding abortion; and outlawing abortions in all circumstances.

Meanwhile, only 1.2 percent of liberals agreed with all five propositions and 5.1 percent agreed with four.

With regard to religious affiliation or lack thereof, 16.8 percent of atheists and 28 percent of agnostics agreed with at least two of the five propositions, the data show.

Approximately 1 in 25 atheists and agnostics support making abortion completely illegal.

"So are there secular and/or liberal folks who are pro-life? The answer is yes, but they are clearly in a very, very small minority. In fact, much less than 10 percent of atheists hold any position that would restrict abortion, and that share is not much bigger among agnostics as well," Burge said.

"It’s obvious that there is a very vocal and organized pro-life movement out there, but we all need to understand that this movement is overwhelmingly conservative politically and the vast majority are Protestant or Catholic. If you want to be a pro-life atheist or liberal, there may be others like you out there but you will probably have a hard time finding them."

The organization known as Secular Pro-Life boasts thousands of members worldwide and "envisions the pro-life movement unified in our common goals, regardless of religious differences," their website states, aiming to create space for pro-life atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other secularists.

"We envision a world in which elective abortion is unthinkable and unwanted, in which women have and embrace control over whether they carry a pregnancy by controlling whether they conceive at all, and in which society fully supports pregnant women, expectant parents and families, and children already born."

This year two of the speakers from the main stage at the March for Life were pro-life Democrats, Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, and Louisiana state representative Katrina Jackson. Lipiniski is a Roman Catholic and Jackson is a Missionary Baptist.

According to a Pew survey last September, 21 percent of Democrats said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

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