A survey of more than 1500 people in the US found that people who are morally opposed to abortion would help a close friend or family member seeking the procedure
18 February 2022
People in the US who are morally opposed to abortion would help a close friend or family member terminate a pregnancy if they were asked for help, according to a nationally representative survey.
Sarah Cowan at New York University and her colleagues analysed data from the General Social Survey, which asks questions about social issues, to determine how someone’s views on abortion affect how they would treat a friend or family member who asked for help with the procedure. The data was collected in 2018 and included answers from 1574 respondents.
Abortion is a divisive issue in the US. According to a Gallup poll from 2021, 49 per cent of adults in the US identify themselves as “pro-choice” and 47 per cent identify themselves as “pro-life”. “Some people claim abortion is central to freedom and autonomy, and others that it’s murder,” says Cowan. “All of this made for rich terrain for examination.”
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She says that it is common for people seeking an abortion to ask for help, whether that be emotional, financial or logistical. A first trimester abortion in the US costs an average of about $500, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and can cost more than double that later in a pregnancy. Close to 60 per cent of those who have an abortion are already mothers, so help is often required with childcare on the day of the procedure, says Cowan.
The General Social Survey asked people whether they were morally opposed to abortion or not. They could also answer “it depends”.
The team found that 88 per cent of respondents, whether they were morally opposed to abortion or not, were willing to provide emotional support to a close friend or family member if that person was getting an abortion.
For those who were morally opposed to abortion, this number dropped to 76 per cent. Of this group, 46 per cent said they would offer a friend or family member logistical help, such as giving someone a lift, and 28 per cent said they would help with any additional costs associated with the procedure, such as travel or hotel fees. Six per cent said they would help pay for the procedure.
Over 50 per cent of those who weren’t morally opposed to abortion said they would help pay for the procedure for a friend or family member.
No other demographic factor, including age, race or religion, seemed to affect how likely someone was to help. “People’s opinion on abortion morality was the most effective predictor of their willingness to help a close friend or a family member get an abortion,” says Cowan.
The researchers also analysed data from 74 interviews with people who took part in the survey and who had said they were morally opposed to abortion. They found that the main reason many were willing to help a loved one access the procedure was because they believed that everyone was allowed to hold their own moral position on the issue.
“This reasoning also hints at why so many Americans are morally opposed to abortion but not legally opposed,” says Cowan.
“The findings show a countervailing narrative to the one in which abortion is the wedge of American political divides,” she says.
“I’m not surprised by the findings – it reflects our tendency in cultural divides to imagine two homogenous tribes facing off against each other, when there is often much more nuance than that,” says Bobby Duffy at King’s College London.
Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abj5851
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