When Americans are presented with specific situations in which a woman should be denied an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy — rather than being asked more generally about a “20-week ban” — they’re strongly opposed to that type of abortion restriction, according to a new poll by Hart Research Associates.
The poll, commissioned on behalf of Planned Parenthood, sought to determine Americans’ attitudes about later abortions under the specific circumstances that women typically have them. Participants were asked whether 20-week abortion bans should apply to women facing four different types of situations: those who would suffer health consequences if they continued the pregnancy, those who are carrying a non-viable fetus, those who became pregnant from rape or incest, and those who have discovered their fetuses have severe fatal abnormalities.
In every one of the separate cases, the majority of respondents said that those women should be able to obtain a legal abortion after 20 weeks.
When the mainstream media talks about 20-week abortion bans, it tends to not delve into the actual circumstances in which women may need them. Instead, the policy is typically characterized as an abortion restriction “that polls well” since public support for legal abortion does tend to drop off for later procedures.
In reality, however, the people who seek these type of later abortions are typically in the most desperate of circumstances. They tend to fall into one of a few different categories: low-income women who are forced to delay abortion while they save up the money for it; women who discover serious fetal abnormalities that weren’t evident earlier in the pregnancy; and women who didn’t realize they were pregnant before that point. Abortions after 20 weeks are very rare, estimated at about 1.5 percent of the total number of abortions performed in the U.S. But cutting off access to them results in preventing desperate individuals from getting the health care they need — which can lead them to resort to unsafe methods to terminate a pregnancy.
The Hart researchers say that once Americans are given this full context, their attitudes shift. By a 20 point margin, participants in the poll said they would oppose a 20-week abortion bans that didn’t include exceptions for the serious situations listed above. “The margins in opposition to these bans are so significant that we think it is very likely that they would be voted down in a popular referendum in virtually any state of the country, after people have had a chance to learn about the real-world consequences of them,” Geoff Garin, the president of Hart Research Associates, writes in a release about the poll results.
Nonetheless, that type of stringent abortion restriction is already in place in several states. And earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representative proposed a national version of a 20-week ban. These legislative initiatives are fueled by the abortion opponents who frequently attempt to draw misleading comparisons between later abortion procedures and Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s horrific crimes. Pushing for later-term bans has been an effective tactic for anti-choice lawmakers because it allows them to position themselves as moderates.
The Hart poll finds that Americans overwhelmingly think that the lawmakers pushing 20-week abortion bans have their priorities in the wrong place. The majority of Republicans (62 percent), Democrats (78 percent), and Independents (71 percent) all say it’s the wrong issue for legislators to be spending time on, both at the state and federal levels. Even most respondents who characterized themselves as “pro-life” didn’t think Congress should be focused on trying to enact a national 20-week ban.
“While women should not have to justify their personal medical decisions, the reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is rare and often happens under heartbreaking and tragic circumstances,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement about the new findings. “Unfortunately, opponents of safe and legal abortion have tried to distort that reality, and it is important for us to get the truth out there.”