Most Americans can’t correctly answer basic questions about the risks, frequency, and legality of abortion in this country, according to a new study conducted by University of Cincinnati researchers. The authors found that the people who live in blue states are no more likely to be well-informed about abortion than the people who live in red states.
Participants were asked to answer several questions about abortion, including “What percentage of women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45?” and “Which has a greater health risk: An abortion in the first three months of pregnancy or giving birth?” They were also asked to determine whether a few statements about abortion were true or false, like whether a woman who has an abortion has a greater risk of suffering from breast cancer, mental health issues, and fertility problems.
Regardless of whether they live in liberal or conservative states, very few people are familiar with those subjects. Just 41 percent of respondents knew that one in three U.S. women will have an abortion by the time she turns 45, and only 31 percent correctly identified giving birth as riskier than having a first-trimester abortion. About a third of participants knew that breast cancer, mental health problems, and decreased fertility are not actually linked to abortion.
Participants were most likely to know that abortion during the first three months of pregnancy is legal in the U.S.; however, even that question stumped some people. Seventeen percent of respondents were unfamiliar with the fact that first-trimester abortions are permitted under the law.
Altogether, just 13 percent of the people polled demonstrated a “high knowledge” of abortion, which means they were able to correctly answer four out of the five questions.
The researchers who conducted the study say their results point to serious shortcomings in our education policy. They conclude that “men and women making sexual and reproductive health decisions may not be well informed about the relative safety and consequences of their choices, highlighting a need for the provision of better, more comprehensive and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health education.” That conclusion is supported by previous research suggesting we need to start sex ed much earlier than high school.
But the findings also point to a politicized misinformation campaign surrounding abortion specifically. The current fights over abortion — as well as the state-level restrictions imposed on the medical procedure — aren’t actually based on science or medicine. The politicians pushing to regulate abortion frequently tout misinformation about the nature of the procedure, giving the general impression that it’s very unsafe, and they’ve been largely successful at enshrining that into law. For instance, according to a recent review of state laws conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families, five states require women seeking an abortion to be notified about the false risk of breast cancer; two states force them to learn about the supposed link between abortion and suicide.
Although medical professionals frequently testify against proposed state-level abortion restrictions, legislators tend to disregard their opinions. And with so many measures specifically designed around these common abortion myths, it’s perhaps no wonder that Americans across the country can’t distinguish fact from fiction. In fact, in some states that have passed particularly harsh abortion restrictions, some residents assume their lawmakers have already successfully outlawed the procedure — and that mistake doesn’t seem so unfathomable in that context.