West Virginia is currently advancing a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But according to a new poll, most West Virginia voters wish lawmakers would focus their attention on other issues.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) on behalf of Planned Parenthood Health Systems, found that voters are less likely to support a 20-week abortion ban once they have more information about the circumstances under which a woman may need later abortion care. The poll asked voters whether women should be able to have in abortion if she discovers serious fetal abnormalities, or if continuing her pregnancy poses critical health risks, or if she became pregnant from rape. When asked about women facing these specific circumstances, the majority of respondents said they should be able to access abortion services in those cases.
Ultimately, PPP found that up to 69 percent of voters believe a later abortion ban is the wrong issue for the legislature to spend its time on.
The polling results in West Virginia reflect the national polling that Planned Parenthood has conducted on this subject. Last August, a separate poll found that Americans oppose 20-week bans by 20 points once they’re given more information about women’s specific situations, and they overwhelmingly agree that the lawmakers pushing these restrictions have their priorities in the wrong place.
Nonetheless, the media typically doesn’t provide this type of nuance in its coverage of 20-week bans, characterizing them simply as bans on late-term abortions that tend to have broad support. That plays into anti-choice advocates’ hands, allowing them to construe later abortions as radically out of touch with Americans’ values. Particularly after the illegal abortion provider Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of murder for preying on impoverished women in his Philadelphia-area clinic, later abortion bans became an area where conservatives could capitalize on emotional outrage.
“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,” Melissa Reed, the vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Health Systems, said in a statement. “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.”
The women who need later abortion care are often facing difficult decisions about wanted pregnancies that have gone terribly wrong. It’s not exactly a casual decision that women make on a whim. And this type of legislation only applies to a very small number of procedures, since abortions after 20 weeks represent just 1.5 percent of abortions nationwide.
The GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a national 20-week abortion ban last year, and state legislatures continue to push forward in this area. Nine states currently have 20-week bans on the books. This session, South Carolina and Mississippi are also advancing proposals to cut off legal abortion access at this arbitrary point.