Methods: In 2014, students (N=504) enrolled in U.S. social work programs participated in an online survey. The survey was developed by the Principal Investigator, who also utilized input from a team of social work scholars who conduct research on a variety of sexual and reproductive health topics. Questions pertaining to students’ sociodemographic identities were first asked, followed by students’ education and practice experiences, personal beliefs, and attitudes regarding abortion and other sexual health topics, which were answered through Likert-type scale responses. Some items were developed by the Principal Investigator and consulting scholars, while numerous established, validated measures of sexual and reproductive health attitudes and beliefs were also included. For the independent variable, a religiosity scale (α=.88) was formed from 3 items measuring constructs of students’ religious attendance, prayer/meditation, and religious guidance. The dependent variable, the abortion attitudes scale, was formed from 5 items measuring student’s attitudes toward abortion rights and legality (α=.93). Linear regressions were employed to understand relationships between social work students’ religiosity and abortion attitudes, controlling for sociodemographics.
Results: Regarding sociodemographic control variables, sex, race/ethnicity, and age did not emerge as significant predictors of anti-choice attitudes. However, LGBQQPA-identifying (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, pansexual, asexual) students were significantly more supportive of abortion rights compared to their heterosexual/straight peers (β=-.14, p<.05), while politically moderate (β=.42, p<.001) and conservative students (β=1.28, p<.001) were significantly more likely than their liberal-identifying peers to oppose abortion. In terms of religious affiliation, Catholic (β=.44, p<.001), evangelical Christian/Baptist (β=.48, p<.001), and Mormon (β=.50, p<.05) students were significantly more likely than their Protestant Christian peers to oppose abortion, whereas agnostic/atheist/secular (β=-.28, p<.001), and Jewish (β=-.27, p<.05) students were more likely than their Protestant Christian peers to support abortion rights. Regarding the variable of interest, students’ scores on the anti-choice attitudes scale rose .32 points with each 1-point increase on the religiosity scale (p<.001).
Implications: Similar to the clients they serve, social workers do not hold monolithic beliefs regarding religion or abortion. Results suggest there may be utility in further-developing approaches to culturally competent social work research and education regarding abortion, a topic that is often under-emphasized, yet frequently appears in social work practice.