Date of Award

Fall 1994

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Murray A Straus


The intriguing paradox of opposition to abortion and support for capital punishment is the central concern of this dissertation. Others have argued that these are inconsistent life views. However, there is some evidence that these views are rooted in traditional morality and political conservatism. Beyond traditionalism, is the desire to punish those who violate the social order. Punitive respondents desire to secure obedience to the law or moral code by means of punishment. Criminal abortion laws allow the authority of the state to punish those who have or perform abortions. Capital punishment is one means of punishing those who are convicted of first degree murder.

Data for this research was taken from the General Social Survey for 1988. The 1988 sample includes 1,481 respondents and is a full probability survey of English-speaking American adults. Punitiveness was measured by respondents views on courts treatment of criminals, spanking children and punishing sinners. Abortion opinions were measured by respondents views on legal abortion in two sets of circumstances; physical trauma precipitated (fetal defect, rape, maternal health threat) abortions, and social distress precipitated (poverty, desire no more children, single women, and for any reason) abortion. Capital punishment views were measure by one question regarding favoring or opposing the death penalty.

Findings from this study reveal that, net of alternative explanations, punitive respondents have more than double the odds of opposing physical trauma precipitated abortion while also favoring capital punishment. Punitive respondents are also more likely to oppose gender equality, to feel that non-marital sexuality is always wrong and to oppose euthanasia, Respondents who interpret the Bible literally are more likely to adhere to punitive attitudes.

Conclusions from this study are that punitiveness is significantly related to opposing legal abortion and favoring capital punishment in the United States. These are not "inconsistent" views, but rather are consistent traditionalist and punitive views.