WASHINGTON, DC – Unwed pregnant teens and twenty-somethings who attend or have graduated from private religious schools are more likely to obtain abortions than their peers from public schools, according to sociological research published in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
"This research suggests that young, unmarried women are confronted with a number of social, financial and health-related factors that can make it difficult for them to act according to religious values when deciding whether to keep or abort a pregnancy," said the study's author, sociologist Amy Adamczyk, an assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
While previous research has investigated the link between religion and abortion attitudes, fewer studies have explored religion's impact on abortion behavior. To fill this research gap, Adamczyk examined how personal religious involvement, schoolmate religious involvement and school type influenced the pregnancy decisions of a sample of 1,504 unmarried and never-divorced women age 26 and younger from 125 different schools. The women ranged in age from 14 to 26 at the time they discovered they were pregnant. Twenty-five percent of women in the sample reported having an abortion, a likely underestimate, according to Adamczyk.
Results revealed no significant link between a young woman's reported decision to have an abortion and her personal religiosity, as defined by her religious involvement, frequency of prayer and perception of religion's importance. Adamczyk said that this may be partially explained by the evidence that personal religiosity delays the timing of first sex, thereby shortening the period of time in which religious women are sexually active outside of marriage.
Despite the absence of a link between personal religious devotion and abortion, religious affiliation did have some important influence. Adamczyk found that conservative Protestants were the least likely to report having an abortion, less likely than mainline Protestants, Catholics and women with non-Christian religious affiliations.
Regarding the impact of the religious involvement of a woman's peers, Adamczyk found no significant influence. However, Adamczyk did find that women who attended school with conservative Protestants were more likely to decide to have an extramarital baby in their 20s than in their teenage years.
"The values of conservative Protestant classmates seem to have an abortion limiting effect on women in their 20s, but not in their teens, presumably because the educational and economic costs of motherhood are reduced as young women grow older," Adamczyk said.
Despite Adamczyk's finding that rates of reported abortions were higher for young women educated at private religious schools, the type of religious school was not a factor: Catholic schools had similar rates as other religious schools.
"Religious school attendance is not necessarily indicative of conservative religious beliefs because students attend these schools for a variety of reasons," Adamczyk said. "These schools tend to generate high levels of commitment and strong social ties among their students and families, so abortion rates could be higher due to the potential for increased feelings of shame related to an extramarital birth."
Data for this study came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a three-wave school-based study of the health-related behaviors of students in grades 7 to 12 at the time of the first wave. Adamczyk analyzed data from the first and third waves of Add Health, the first wave taking place from 1994 to 1995 and the third wave being completed between 2001 and 2002.
The article, "Understanding the Effects of Personal and School Religiosity on the Decision to Abort a Premarital Pregnancy," is available to members of the media in advance of publication on an embargoed basis. Reporters may contact Jackie Cooper, media relations officer at the American Sociological Association, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 247-9871, to request the article or author interviews.
The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is a quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association.
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