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Protecting abortion rights is a critical issue for Secular Americans. Will Democrats care?
Non-religious Americans are the "new abortion voters," according to FiveThirtyEight
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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that Secular Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights.
Just consider two charts from the Pew Research Center. In 2022, they found that 84% of religiously unaffiliated Americans supported abortion rights compared to only 74% of white evangelicals who opposed it:
A few years before that, when Pew broke the numbers down by specific faith labels, 87% of atheists and agnostics said they supported abortion rights (which makes sense since the wishy-washy “spiritual but not religious” people tend to drag those numbers down).
All of that would be a great sign for the future of abortion access… except for the pesky little fact that those 74% of white evangelicals who oppose abortion vastly outnumbered the 84% of “Nones” who supported it. More importantly, those white evangelicals could be always be counted on to vote in elections precisely because right-wing politicians (and their preferred judges) embraced the “pro-life” agenda. A lot of those conservative Christians were single-issue voters and that issue was abortion. Democrats, as a whole, have never been able to generate similar enthusiasm for the courts or judges.
So does it really matter if most Secular Americans are progressive on a number of important issues if we don’t have the numbers or the enthusiasm to create political change?
It looks like all that may finally be changing.
In a piece for FiveThirtyEight by Daniel Cox and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, they explain that non-religious Americans have become the “new abortion voters.” Basically, our raw numbers are growing and our desire to vote specifically to push back against Republican-backed anti-abortion measures is finally surpassing that of conservative Christians who want to go even more extreme in the other direction.
… In 2021, the share of religiously unaffiliated Americans (a group that includes atheists, agnostics and people who identify with no religion in particular) who said abortion was a critical issue started to rise. And for the first time in 2022, the year the Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the share of religiously unaffiliated Americans who said that abortion was a critical issue was higher than the share of white evangelicals who said the same.
The dog finally caught the car, and white evangelicals can no longer be motivated to go to the polls in order simply to overturn Roe. That’s over and done with. The question now is whether Secular Americans, seeing the carnage conservative Christians have wrought, can provide meaningful resistance. It seems like we’re finally at that time.
… in a swift reversal, the issue of abortion is now much more complicated on the right than on the left. Evangelicals disproportionately live in places where abortion is now banned or heavily restricted, so it may become less of a political priority for them because the anti-abortion movement has accomplished its goals in their area… And while it’s true that white evangelicals strongly oppose abortion, there is not universal support for complete bans that some states have implemented.
This past year should “radicalize” anyone who’s seen Christian Nationalists dictating policies about women’s bodies, access to books, health care, etc. That includes non-religious Americans, yes, but plenty of religious people too. If this week’s SCOTUS rulings and Republican overreach in state legislatures doesn’t motivate you to vote, nothing will. And if voters in Kansas can defeat a constitutional measure to ban abortion, there’s no telling what the rest of the country can do as we witness extremism on the right.
We have the ethics and the energy on our side.
There are two downsides, though. First, we’re not a bloc. We can’t be easily reached (at least not in the same way white evangelicals can be corralled in a church). And we don’t like people telling us how to think even if we mostly end up in similar places.
Second, Democratic candidates have historically been allergic to non-religious voters. They don’t “court” us, they don’t embrace our values, and they don’t brag about how they’ll fight for a secular country. Republicans all over the country always tell voters that they’re conservative Christians, but Democrats rarely talk about how religious shouldn’t guide our politics, and that they’ll build a wall between church and state, and that they’ll represent non-religious voters.
To be clear, progressive politicians don’t need to embrace atheism on the campaign trail. But they should be forceful in calling out Christian Nationalism and faith-based cruelty. They should make it clear that they will push back every time conservative Republicans want to use their religion to override anti-discrimination laws or your doctors. Church/state separation shouldn’t be divisive, and it wouldn’t be if more Democrats proudly campaigned on the issue.
If they want the support of otherwise apathetic voters and younger voters (who typically don’t vote in the same proportions as older ones), Democrats would be foolish to remain silent on the most salient culture war battles of our time. Go all in and don’t hold back.
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