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Pro-choice and Pro-life Are Not Enough: An Investigation of Abortion Attitudes as a Function of Abortion Prototypes

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Attitudes toward abortion were investigated as being comprised of two dimensions: attitudes toward abortion as a procedure and attitudes toward choice. By separating the two dimensions as conceptually distinct, attitudinal groups expand beyond the traditional “pro-choice” and “pro-life” absolutist categories to include dilemma and regulated groups. Dilemma people are those who are negative toward abortion but positive toward choice. Regulated individuals are those who are not negative toward abortion but believe that abortion should be strictly controlled rather than an individual choice. People in these situationist positional groupings were hypothesized to hold different abortion attitudes and exhibit different individual difference profiles relative to those endorsing the absolutist perspectives regarding abortion. Using a sample of university student participants, the study results partially supported the existence of the dilemma and regulated attitudinal groups. As expected, those endorsing pro-choice and pro-life positions regarding abortion were different from each other on abortion attitudes as well as on a number of sexuality-related, gender-role attitude, and conservatism individual difference measures. Of note were the findings that the situationists (i.e., dilemma and regulated groups) tended to fall in between the two absolutist groups in relation to abortion attitudes and differed on the personality measures. It is insufficient to dichotomize attitudes toward abortion as either pro-life or pro-choice; this research suggests that, at minimum, there is a substantial intermediate group of situationists. By identifying and understanding this middle group, the issue of abortion may become less polarized and divisive. The situationists are a large proportion of attitude holders; this group may have a substantial impact on laws, regulations, human rights, and research surrounding abortion issues.

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  1. Also tested using Mann–Whitney U test; results were the same.

  2. Changed slightly from Allen and Griffin’s (1993) to broaden the meaning of "experts" which was originally defined as a panel of medical experts.


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Parts of this manuscript were presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention, Toronto, Ontario (August 2015). The authors wish to thank Marissa Traversa and Derek Straatsma for their work on this project. Part of this work was supported by St. Jerome’s University under faculty research Grants IIRG430 and FRG43015.

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Correspondence to B. J. Rye.

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Rye, B.J., Underhill, A. Pro-choice and Pro-life Are Not Enough: An Investigation of Abortion Attitudes as a Function of Abortion Prototypes. Sexuality & Culture 24, 1829–1851 (2020).

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