Another conclusion of the study was that many Americans have not "talked about abortion in depth," whether out of a fear of conflict or because they think they do not possess the "scientific, legal, and moral lexicons to reason through difficult topics."
Many respondents also gave an initial answer of their beliefs, only to clarify "that that's not really how they feel." Responses such as this one are not measured well by normal fixed-question surveys, the study said.
"People really don't know what they think about the issue," Camosy said of the responses in the report. "To the extent that they think about the issue at all," he said, their beliefs may be "superficial," or "connected to personal experiences" instead of the fruit of "systematic" or "careful" thinking.
"As a professor, I tend to think so differently than the average person who's got a million other things on their mind," he said. Most people "have no tools, no capacity" to think through the issue carefully, he said.
For Catholics who follow Church teaching on the sanctity of life, this may pose an obstacle to evangelization.
However, Camosy said, pro-lifers can start by pointing to "adjacent issues," the circumstances in which a young mother might consider abortion such as domestic violence, poverty, and racial injustice. They can "help people feel their way through these issues," before discussing why it is bad that these pregnancies end in abortion.
The study also revealed that many people talk about the concept of a "good life" just as much as they do life itself, with a "good life" possibly encompassing matters of "health, support, financial stability, affection, rights, and pursuit of chosen livelihoods."
Furthermore, the more "permissive" respondents were to abortion, the more they prioritized a "good life."
"Choosing a 'good life' becomes, for some, a good enough reason to have an abortion," the report said.
Finally, given the complexity of answers on abortion, the study recommended moving away from the binary labeling of Americans as either "pro-choice" or "pro-life."
For instance, one interviewee identified as "pro-choice" before clarifying that "I'm both! I'm both!" After that, the interviewee said she identified as "neither" and "pro-mother's choice.
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"This study reveals that just not to be the case at all," Camosy said, of the narrative that two sides are bitterly at war on the abortion issue.
Of those surveyed, 35% said that abortion should be "legal under any circumstance."
Many in this group are religiously-unaffiliated, and these respondents were more likely to be college-educated, majority-Democrat, trended younger, and were more likely to have had an abortion or known someone who has had an abortion, the report said. Around half of this group were not morally opposed to abortion, while the other half were either ambivalent or were morally opposed.
Meanwhile, 14% of respondents said abortion should be "illegal in all circumstances." Nearly all of these were also morally opposed to abortion, all were church-attending Catholics or Protestants, majority-Republican, and "disproportionately male and non-Hispanic white." Half of them had a college degree, and a majority were of the older Boomer or Silent generations.
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.