Looking over their latest survey data on abortion, the Pew fact-mongers headline a growing “north-south divide,” with New Englanders becoming more pro-choice and Southerners from Kentucky to Texas becoming more pro-life. But that’s not the whole story.

It’s true that since the mid-90s, New England has become even more pro-choice than the country’s most pro-choice region used to be. Specifically, the gap between New Englanders who think all or most abortions should be legal and those who think all or most should be illegal increased by 11 points. That, I’d say, is the result of the diminution of Catholicism in the region, thanks in no small measure to the sexual abuse scandal of 2002-03.

Likewise, those in the South Central region went from supporting legal abortion 52-45 to opposing it 52-40, a swing of 19 points. (Like the most of the rest of the country, the coastal South has not changed its views on abortion at all.)

The missing part of the story is the 13-point swing in the (non-Great Lakes portion of the) Midwest, from supporting abortion 55-42 to being equally divided 47-47.   The only other significant shift has been a modest drift of the Mountain West towards the pro-choice pole, likely reflecting the in-migration of Californians.

What we’ve got, then, is a reinforcement of what Utah State historian and religious demographer Phil Barlow likes to call the Bible Suspender, which extends in a swath up the west bank of the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico to the Dakotas. Meanwhile, the Bible Belt is shortening on its eastern end, thanks to increasingly diverse populations in northern Virginia, metropolitan Atlanta, and Florida.

The Bible Suspender is where anti-abortion and Republican Party identity have most closely merged. (To paraphrase the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, its name is red.) What Pew’s abortion numbers show is that the Suspender, not the Belt, is America’s most conservative religious section.

Categories: Ethics, Politics

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


  1. Nanabedokw'môlsem

    All of which adds to my suspicion that poverty is the major motivator for abortion, with peril to education being the second major motivator. The Republican antipathy to social justice measures may in fact be the major contributor to the abortion they therefore-wrongly claim to oppose.

    • Nan,

      The people in the east and west coast are poor? that would be news to them. they think you are just fly over country. americans are in top 5% of wealth in the world. the poor in america today are richer than middle class in the 50s and yet it is the people today that are aborting 1.5 Million children a yr. what makes the difference ….two things…a sense of entitlement…people today believe they are entitled to live their life as they want regardless of the consequences….as kennedy said ‘we are entitled to our definition of life and truth”…or as the devil said “you will be like gods naming good and evil”.

      the second factor…is people like you….people running around claiming that “its understandable, reasonable and justifiable to abort your children…in fact…its not your fault that you are aborting them…its hate filled republicans…its their fault…aborting your child is an act of justice.”

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