Health

Polling Confirms That Voters See Abortion Access As An Economic Issue For Women

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Abortion rights supporters stand on the steps of the Missouri Capitol

Rather than approaching abortion access as a divisive “social issue,” many voters actually see it as a mainstream policy that’s inextricably linked to women’s financial stability, according to new polling released on Wednesday by the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

The research firm PerryUndem Research/Communication conducted the poll on behalf of the women’s health organization. To reach their conclusions, researchers surveyed a representative sample of voters in New York and Pennsylvania, both states where lawmakers have proposed broad legislative agendas with several policies intended to advance women’s rights.

In New York, the 10-point “Women’s Equality Act” includes provisions to advance pay equity, increase legal protections for domestic violence victims, end pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and strengthen abortion rights in the state constitution. In Pennsylvania, the “Agenda for Women’s Health” would criminalize some forms of online harassment, extend coverage for breast and cervical cancer screenings, ensure workplace protections for pregnant and nursing mothers, and establish a buffer zone around abortion clinics to dissuade protesters from harassing patients.

Clearly, both states are situating abortion in the context of other measures to ensure gender equality. On a call with reporters, leaders at the National Institute for Reproductive Health noted that the country is seeing “somewhat of a trend with this legislation,” and they wondered whether it’s resonating with voters.

The results suggest it is. Pollsters found that the legislative agendas were very popular with voters in both New York and Pennsylvania, with at least eight out of ten respondents indicating they supported the measures in their states. Even when participants were asked specifically about the provisions related to abortion, about three quarters of them said they wanted the platform to include protections for abortion access. Sixty eight percent of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians also said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported these broad women’s policy initiatives.

Plus, voters communicated that they see abortion as one piece of the larger push to help women lead fuller lives. More than 80 percent of voters in both states said that a woman’s ability to control whether or when she has children “is an important part of equality for women,” and more than 70 percent of them connected abortion to women’s ability to maintain financial stability.

“Voters understand that access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is the key to a woman’s ability to plan her future and provide for her family,” Andrea Miller, the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. “The lesson here is that these policies are not controversial.”

Nationally, there’s been a growing push to reframe issues of reproductive health as policies that impact women’s economic well being. Particularly considering the fact that many abortion restrictions target low-income women’s ability to pay for the procedure — like laws that prevent Medicaid beneficiaries from using their public insurance to cover abortion, or measures that require women to spend more money on transportation to make multiple trips to a clinic — advocates frequently emphasize the fact that reproductive rights are an issue of economic justice.

Plus, the decisions that women are grappling with related to their reproductive health are often economic ones. Most women who are trying to prevent an unintended pregnancy say they can’t afford to have a child because they’re trying to provide for their families, hold down a job, or finish a degree. The majority of the women who have abortions are already parents, and are making the choice specifically because they know another baby would stretch them to their financial limits.

Although voters are making these connections, Republican lawmakers typically attempt to frame contraception and abortion as niche issues, saying it’s unfair for Democrats to assume that women are “single issue voters.” Particularly in the lead-up to the 2012 election, which was largely centered on economic issues, GOP officials argued that women don’t care about reproductive health as much as they care about the economy.

But according to Miller, the results of the new poll should be a “wake up call for elected officials” who insist on separating abortion issues from financial issues, even though that’s out of step with their constituents’ views on the subject. “This is an issue where voters are ahead of policymakers,” she said on Wednesday’s press call.