Regarding Abortion, the Views of Regular Churchgoers are Surprisingly Mixed
On Wednesday, the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council released the results of a nationwide study analyzing the beliefs of American churchgoers. Of the 1,009 survey participants, 72% reported weekly church attendance, while the other 28% said they go to church at least monthly. Regular church attendance was a prerequisite for participation in the survey to ensure better insight into the beliefs of America’s most devout Christians.
The FRC survey covered an area of theological and worldview issues. A portion of the study specifically looked at what churchgoers believe about abortion and the Bible’s teaching on life. What follows are 10 survey findings related to abortion that merit our attention. Although these results feature some discoveries we consider encouraging, some disconcerting findings underscore American Christians’ ongoing need for instruction in a biblical worldview, particularly on abortion and the value of human life.
How many regular churchgoers have participated in an abortion?
About one out of every six respondents (16%) admitted to having ever paid for, encouraged, or chosen to have an abortion. Among these, 56% indicated they read the Bible weekly, and 62% attend church weekly. Additionally, 50% of those who have participated in an abortion said the Bible was “clear and decisive” on the topic of abortion (only 26% said the Bible was “unclear or ambiguous”). Intriguingly, of those who have actively participated in an abortion, 20% said the Bible teaches that abortion is “always wrong.”
Christians might be surprised to learn that around 17% of female churchgoers have had an abortion, and 15% of male churchgoers have paid for or actively encouraged someone to get an abortion. However, Family Research Council’s findings track with similar studies, including one by Lifeway Research in 2015 that showed 16% percent of all women who have had an abortion identified as evangelical Christian.
To put these percentages into perspective, consider the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. In 2023, the total membership across 47,198 SBC churches was 13.2 million. If we were to apply the 16% figure from the FRC and Lifeway surveys, approximately 2.1 million Southern Baptists have, at some point, actively participated in an abortion. In other words, we can conclude that millions of theologically conservative Christians have a personal history with abortion, even if they do not talk about it.
How many regular churchgoers self-identify as pro-life or pro-choice?
Most respondents (63%) identified as pro-life, while 22% identified as pro-choice, 10% said they lean one way or the other, and 5% said they do not know where they stand. When respondents were pressed for more specifics concerning their position, 36% claimed to be “pro-life, with some exceptions or limitations.” The second highest response was “pro-life without exceptions or limitations,” a position held by 27% of respondents. An additional 5% claimed they “lean pro-life but could be convinced otherwise.”
A minority of respondents gave pro-abortion answers, with 14% identifying as “pro-choice, with some exceptions or limitations;” 5% saying they “lean pro-choice but could be convinced otherwise;” and 5% indicating they were unsure where they stood on the abortion issue.
These figures help dispel the notion that churchgoers are monolithic when it comes to their views on abortion; the data clearly demonstrates that churchgoers hold a variety of views. Although most regular church attendees identify as “pro-life,” 37% do not hold firm pro-life commitments. Furthermore, among the 63% of respondents who identify as pro-life, there are differences in what they think the Bible teaches about abortion and whether their religious beliefs are the greatest influence on their opinions, as we will see in other survey findings.
What do regular churchgoers think the Bible has to say about when human life begins?
Two-thirds of respondents (65%) claimed the Bible identifies when human life begins, one-fifth (21%) said it does not, and 13% admitted they did not know. Among the 65% who said the Bible indicates when human life begins, 52% said it teaches that life begins “upon fertilization of the female egg.”
Other responses included once the child has been delivered and begins breathing (8%), once the embryo/fetus reaches viability (7%), six weeks after the fertilization of the female egg (6%), sometime during the first three months after fertilization (3%), and sometime after three months but before six months after fertilization (3%). Of the 65% who had initially stated they believed the Bible indicates when life begins, 12% backed off this view when pressed for a specific moment, saying instead that the Bible is not actually specific, and 8% said they did not know when that point was.
Notably, among those who did not believe the Bible indicates when human life begins, 28% nevertheless indicated it would be “very desirable” if their church taught more about abortion. Another 28% said they somewhat desired their church to teach more about the topic (43% said they did not desire their church to teach more about abortion).
What do regular churchgoers think the Bible teaches about abortion?
There was little consensus among respondents about what the Bible teaches about abortion. The most commonly held view was that abortion is not acceptable under any circumstances (35%), while 19% said abortion is acceptable only when the mother’s life is endangered. Other views on abortion include the decision belonging to the couple involved (10%), it being acceptable if the child will be born with significant physical or mental challenges (7%), and it being acceptable under any circumstance (6%). Twenty-five percent ducked the question, with 14% saying the Bible teaches none of those perspectives and 9% saying they do not know what the Bible teaches on abortion.
When respondents were asked about the “morality of killing an unborn child,” 65% said they believed the Bible was “clear and decisive” on the question, 15% said the Bible was “unclear or ambiguous,” and 13% said the Bible did not address the question.
Breaking down the numbers by denomination, a high percentage of evangelicals (77%), independent/non-denominational church attendees (73%), and Pentecostals (75%) said the Bible was “clear and decisive” on the morality of killing an unborn child. However, the number dipped to 56% among attenders of mainline Protestant churches and 68% for Protestants overall. Additionally, across all denominations, higher levels of church attendance and Bible reading correlated to higher incidences of saying the Bible was “clear and decisive” on the question. Seventy percent of those who attended church weekly and 72% who read the Bible weekly indicated that the Bible was clear on the question.
From a pro-life perspective, it is encouraging that only a minority (6%) believe abortion is acceptable under any circumstance. Nevertheless, the diversity of opinion on what the Bible teaches about abortion reveals confusion among the faithful. For example, despite nothing in the Bible suggesting that a couple can determine whether or not to have an abortion, 10% of respondents believe the Bible endorses this perspective. On one level, this is shocking and suggests pervasive biblical illiteracy among churchgoers despite 65% of survey respondents indicating that they read the Bible at least weekly.
How many regular churchgoers have heard a sermon or teaching on abortion within the past 12 months?
Less than half of respondents (44%) indicated that their church had provided a sermon or teaching on abortion in a weekend service in the past 12 months. However, the type of church attended factored heavily into the responses. A majority of Catholics (54%) credited their church with teaching on abortion, but none of the Protestant churches (evangelical, mainline Protestant, independent/non-denominational, or Pentecostal) hit 50%. Among Protestants, 45% of Pentecostal churchgoers reported hearing a sermon on abortion, followed by evangelical (41%), mainline (36%), and independent churches (32%). Overall, only 38% of respondents attending a Protestant church said they had heard a sermon or teaching on abortion within the past year.
Would regular churchgoers like to hear preaching or teaching on abortion more or less often?
About one-third of respondents (31%) said they would prefer that their church preach or teach about abortion in the weekend worship service “more often,” 13% said they would prefer such teaching “less often,” 40% said they were satisfied with how much their church addresses abortion, 8% said they did not care, and another 8% said they did not know if they preferred more preaching on abortion.
Notably, the respondents most interested in receiving more teaching on this topic were those who attend Catholic churches (41%). Among other denominations, 32% of Pentecostals, 30% of evangelicals, 28% of Independents/non-denominational, and 24% of mainline Protestants expressed a desire for more sermons on abortion. A small minority indicated they wanted fewer sermons on abortion, including 17% of mainline Protestants, 14% of Catholics, 11% of independent/non-denominational church attendees, 6% of evangelicals, and 2% of Pentecostals.
Do regular churchgoers desire more worldview education related to abortion and the value of human life?
Most respondents (70%) indicated that they would like their church to provide additional biblical worldview education related to abortion and the value of human life (44% said it would be “very desirable”; 27% indicated it would be “somewhat desirable”). Only a third said it would not be desirable (15% said additional biblical worldview education was “not too desirable;” another 15% said such training was “not desirable at all”).
These findings indicate many churchgoers appreciate instruction and desire to learn more about the abortion issue at church. Whether the teaching comes from the pulpit, Sunday school, or is offered in another format, most churchgoers want their churches to teach them about abortion and the value of human life. In a post-Roe context where abortion is regularly discussed on the news, the higher number of churchgoers who desire further instruction on the topic is predictable and encouraging.
What do regular churchgoers credit as having the greatest influence on their views about abortion?
Most respondents (71%) said their moral and religious beliefs had the greatest influence on their views about abortion and the value of human life. Political and policy considerations (11%) and public preferences and opinions (11%) tied for second. Another 8% did not know what was influencing their abortion positions.
For pastors and church leaders, this insight is particularly noteworthy. Most churchgoers credit their religious and moral beliefs for having the most influence on their views about abortion and the value of human life. Additionally, among those who say their religious and moral beliefs have the most influence on their views about abortion and the value of life, 75% said they desired to learn more about abortion at church (only 26% said they did not want additional teaching on abortion at church).
Do regular churchgoers want their church to do more to support women facing unplanned pregnancies?
Most respondents (58%) said they want their church to do more to help or support women facing an unplanned pregnancy than it currently does. Only 6% said they wanted their church to do less, while 29% said their church should continue its current level of outreach to pregnant women. Almost two out of three respondents (62%) said their church provides specific and meaningful assistance or support to women facing an unplanned pregnancy, 20% said their church does not provide specific or valuable help, and 18% did not know if their church provided such help to pregnant women.
In 1876, Dr. Andrew Nebinger (1819-1886) submitted a report about abortion to the Medical Society of Pennsylvania. According to Nebinger, legislation with stronger enforcement provisions was needed to curb abortion, which he called an “evil of such gigantic proportions.” However, Nebinger did not believe that a mere change in law would affect long-term change in the morals and attitudes of the American people. To affect lasting change, doctors should partner with Christian ministers to ensure that “intellectual, moral, and religious light shall be shed upon the subject in all its phases.”
In the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion has been thrust once again into the center of American public discourse. Although the popular assumption is that churchgoers are adamantly pro-life, the FRC survey demonstrates that Christians are not monolithic in their views about abortion. Although the survey contains some encouraging results, an honest assessment of the data demonstrates that many Christians are confused about the Bible’s teaching on abortion and the value of life.
If America’s most devout Christians are confused about abortion, there is little hope for the pro-life movement. Thus, as pro-lifers chart the path forward post-Roe, pastors must take the lead in shaping the conscience and moral imagination of their people. This was Nebinger’s prescription in 1876, and it remains the best hope for the unborn today.
David Closson is Director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.