America Magazine put together a compelling set of podcasts in the lead-up to the Fall 2020 Election, considering multiple angles of issues that many Catholics weigh as they head to the ballot box. I’m grateful for the invitation to participate in a special episode entitled “Abortion: It’s More Complicated Than You Think.” I appreciated the opportunity to summarize findings from my recent comprehensive qualitative interview study of How Americans Understand Abortion, available from the McGrath Institute of the University of Notre Dame. Listen to the full episode here.
What Americans Really Think About Abortion (WSJ)
My new essay in the Wall Street Journal (page C3 in the September 26-27 issue) brings attention to what we learned from interviewing hundreds of Americans in-depth regarding how they think and feel about abortion.
A big takeaway? Americans’ views are far more nuanced than what a black and white, “pro-choice” versus “pro-life” framing presumes. Abortion may epitomize our “us” versus “them” political culture, but actually talking to people reveals anything but a clear line between mutually exclusive camps.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring sociological research to bear on the ways we think through this issue, which is often talked about without sufficient attention to how ordinary Americans, themselves, view it.
For more, check out our full report published with support from the McGrath Institute at the University of Notre Dame. I’ll continue to post additional publications here. You can also follow me on Twitter @TriciaCBruce.
*Thank you* to each of the 217 Americans who participated in confidential interviews with our research team. We are honored and grateful for your candor, without which this study would not have been possible.
Media Coverage of “How Americans Understand Abortion”
My report on American’ Abortion Attitudes – a study and publication of the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life – has received wide attention in media sources. I am thankful for reporters who have engaged with its contents, implications, and correctives regarding what we think we already “know” about abortion attitudes…but haven’t really asked (or listened).
The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the news stories, radio shows, and podcasts that feature our study. Posting does not signal endorsement. My hope from the earliest stages of this study has been to foster more productive conversations predicated on sound sociological data.
Confused and conflicted: Attitudes toward abortion have many Americans feeling this way – Catholic News Service – 9/1/20
In-Depth Survey Shows Nuance in How Americans Think About Abortion – WUOT/NPR – 8/31/20
Skewed media coverage of abortion at the Republican convention reveals a gap no one wants to bridge – America Magazine – 8/27/20
How Americans Understand Abortion – Carrie Abbot Radio Show / Podcast – 8/26/20
Do Pro-Lifers Who Reject Trump Have ‘Blood on their Hands’? – David French, The Dispatch – 8/23/20
This is what Americans know, don’t know about abortion – Christian Post – 8/22/20
What Pro-Lifers Can Learn From the Notre Dame Abortion Survey – National Catholic Register – 8/9/20
Church Life Today Podcast, Dr. Tricia Bruce (Part I; Part II) – 7/28/20
Before talking about abortion, it helps to listen to people’s stories – Charles Camosy, Crux – 8/2/20
Abortion: Discuss, Don’t Debate – Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter – 7/31/20
New study shows Americans have complicated views on abortion – Charles Camosy, Crux – 7/25/20
Americans in Agreement: Abortion is Not a ‘Desirable Good’ – National Catholic Register – 7/21/20
Notre Dame study examines ‘everyday’ Americans’ attitudes toward abortion – America Magazine – 7/16/20
How Americans Understand Abortion
We may think we already know the answer to this question, but common perceptions don’t map well on to what I learned from interviewing 217 ordinary Americans about abortion.
For one, abortion discussions are uncommon or nonexistent in everyday life. The interview was, for many, their first time to talk about abortion beyond simple position labels. Many were still figuring out for themselves what they thought.
Abortion also turns out to be far more personal than political: three-quarters of interviewees knew someone personally who’d had an abortion, and a quarter of our female interviewees had had an abortion, themselves.
Some told us that they vote in ways that don’t always match how they feel. Some contradicted themselves, or openly recognized when they felt conflict between multiple values.
While the abortion decision itself receives the most attention in public debates, in private it is more about what happens before and after that decision: what was the nature of the relationship between conceiving partners? What was the level of efficacy and support? What would long term outcomes look like for all involved? And so forth.
Our report amplifies the voices of a diverse swath of Americans who differ by age, occupation, race, ideology, political party, educational background, religion, and more. Rather than attempting to fit them into the kinds of pre-set categories that survey questions require, we let people talk freely. And we listened.
Read more about what we learned here.
Thank you to the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life for funding this important study, support from Jess Keating, and to my stellar team of interviewers: Bridget Ritz, Maureen Day, Kendra Hutchens, and Patricia Tevington.
Adapting Closed Churches
What happens to a church that closes? This is a question I’ve researched for a few years in the context of closed Catholic parishes, with funding support from the Louisville Institute. A new article from CityLab brings attention to one outcome for closed church properties: the transition to affordable housing. Thanks to reporter Alex Wittenberg for interviewing me for this story:
Churches Are Building Housing Developments ‘in God’s Back Yard’
“_American Parishes_ is a specialized publication of the best kind…”
These are the words that Kevin J. Christiano uses to describe American Parishes: Remaking Local Catholicism, a book I edited with Gary Alder and Brian Starks (2019, Fordham University Press). Christiano brings the reader in with the following personalized account in his review:
We are grateful for Christiano’s careful read and positive review that concludes with “This is a book that ought to inspire and orient new and better research about the life of the Catholic Church in the United States and the parishes in which it is lived every day of the year.”
Read the review in its entirety in the Review of Religious Research journal and purchase the book in hardcover or paperback to read it for yourself!
Invited lectures necessarily get creative during this time! Thanks to the Community of Saint Peter in Cleveland, Ohio, for welcoming me – virtually – into their homes to deliver a talk entitled “Empty Pews” about the religiously non-affiliated. This was a great chance to share ten “storylines” emergent from conversations with “nones” around the United States. Why do people shed former religious identities? What explains why more and more Americans identify with “nothing in particular” when it comes to religion? I was grateful for the opportunity to talk through responses to these questions with such an engaged (Zoom!) audience!
Election to ASR Council
I am honored to receive word of my election to Council for the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR). This is a great organization with a supportive network of scholars in the sociology of religion and related fields. Its Sociology of Religion journal ranks among the top in the sub-discipline. While we won’t be able to meet for ASR 2020 in San Francisco as originally planned, I’m already looking forward to ASR 2021 in Chicago.
Who’s Leaving Catholicism?
Who’s leaving Catholicism? This was one of the driving questions behind a documentary project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for which I was invited to consult. Who leaves? Half of American Catholics do, at some point in their lives. View this documentary video to learn more, including how Catholic leaders are thinking through a response.
Guest appearance on Iowa Catholic Radio
I enjoyed my conversation with Iowa Catholic Radio’s latest episode of “Straight Talk” hosted by Jeanne Wells, during which we talked about Catholics in and out of the church. Social distancing from the church is not a new phenomenon! Listen to the show here or on any podcast player.