Since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, states have been having difficult and sometimes heated discussions about where and how to draw “the line” on abortion. Evidence from the Kansas election suggests the final tally may surprise observers and inspire a level of nuance far beyond that of your typical partisan issue.
In 2019, my team of sociologists conducted interviews with hundreds of Americans to better understand how regular people in the United States think about this issue, in part because polling shows consistent ambivalence (legal support for abortion sometimes but not all the time).
To many Americans, it is difficult to answer questions about their preferences regarding abortion access and regulation, despite public rhetoric to the contrary. Very few people have polished position statements (“That’s a hard one for me to answer”) to offer. Few people are actually well-versed in the abortion laws of their home state. The majority of them don’t know much about medicine (“I’m no doctor”). Abortion is a taboo subject, and few people discuss it openly with others.
But the current legislative moment in America brings us here, redistributing this mess to millions as an issue for the ballot box.
We realized that there are situations where pro-abortion sentiment is fairly strong. For example, respondents who lean toward abortion legalization cited a woman’s severe health risk as a “obvious” justification (“It’s clear that women should not be asked to give up their lives for a baby to be born”) while respondents who lean toward abortion restriction cited a similar but more hesitant justification (“The doctor says, ‘It’s you or the baby'”; “That’s something that you go and get special permission for”). Nearly three quarters of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll, are in favor of legal abortion under these conditions, though it is up to clinicians to determine whether or not a given case meets the criteria. According to those we talked to, it’s justified because of the concept of “self-defense.”
Only 11% of Americans are unwilling to consider legality, even when a mother’s life or health is in danger. These people have given us reasons like, “The health of the mother is something that should be taken into account when first engaging in sexual actions”; “That’s why bedrest was invented”; “Nobody can tell me a problem with current technology where that’s really a problem”; “A woman that loves that baby is not going to want to abort”; and “It’s Lower levels of public support for legal abortion are observed when mental health risks are considered. I don’t buy into the claim that one’s children are the source of their mental health problems because “everyone could say their children are giving them mental health issues.”
The majority of Americans (53 percent) say that the “line” also includes situations where there is a high probability that a baby will be born with a severe disability or health problem, but there is considerable room for interpretation. Participants who were more adamant in their support of legal abortion cited situations such as paralysis, the need for 24-hour care, and “where the baby might only live one or two days” as reasons. There is less support for legal abortion when a fetal anomaly is present, such as “blindness,” “cleft lip,” “missing limb,” or the “pandora’s box” of potential fetal anomalies, as one interviewee put it. The meaning of disability, dependence, and the quality of life for a disabled child and his or her caretaker are all discussed. In other words, determining legality in this area requires sifting through American beliefs about who should be “wanted,” who should provide care for them, how much “suffering” is acceptable, who should pay for it, and who should decide what is “best.” Some people label legal abortion in the midst of such questions as “mercy,” while others fear it will lead to “genetically engineered perfect people.”
The situation is already complicated, and it will only get worse from here.
In line with findings from a national survey, our Republican interviewees were less likely than others to say that rape justifies legal access to abortion. People we spoke to described a pregnancy resulting from rape as “tough” and “hard,” but they also said that having an abortion would be “selfish” because “it’s not the child’s fault” and “we don’t know what that child is bringing to the world.” The allegation of rape has been criticized because it could be used as a “excuse” to obtain an abortion. Those who normally oppose abortion may make an exception in the case of a rape pregnancy, unlike in the case of a health-related circumstance. It’s true that “someone is waiting in line to be able to have the privilege of adopting that child.” A small number of Republican fathers admitted they might make an exception “if that were my daughter.”
Many of the Democrats we talked to expressed support for abortion rights, but they also had reservations about late-term abortions that weren’t done for medical reasons. A better time to start is now. My pregnancy has been challenging, especially during the third trimester. If it is to be done at all, it should be done early on, in my opinion. National polling shows that the vast majority of Americans who agree that abortion should be legal agree that it should be illegal after a certain number of weeks into a pregnancy. This includes the majority of Democrats (50%), who are opposed to legalizing abortion after the first 24 weeks. Participants in the interviews discussed the emotional bonds they had formed through their pregnancies and expressed strong opposition to the concept of a “late” abortion that was not the result of a medical emergency. “I don’t agree with abortion if a child can be born premature and survive outside the womb,” the author writes.
There is a widespread but more nuanced belief among Americans that abortion should not be the “default” option, treated casually, or seen as “contraception,” which makes it more difficult to legislate against. “I would hate to see a woman abusing abortion to get out of a situation,” or “I would hope it wouldn’t be like taking a Tylenol.” Although many women who have had abortions cite financial difficulties as the reason they decided to have the procedure done, nearly half of those we polled were opposed to legal abortion on the basis of poverty. We have a welfare system, and having kids “shouldn’t be a reason” not to have one. Even though “there are all kinds of ways to avoid pregnancy these days,” interviewees were nearly split on whether or not a married woman who does not want more children should have access to legal abortion. The majority of Americans worry that having “easy” access to legal abortion will lead to people being less “careful” with their sexual and contraceptive practices, according to a national poll.
How Can We Know If Abortion Is Necessary To Save A Woman’s Life? It Isn’t Always Definable
Everyday Americans are conflicted about abortion, and they don’t know if they should ask, know, or speak up about what they think is right or wrong. Even though this is how most Americans process the issue, the law provides a cumbersome means of assessing and adjudicating among “reasons” for an abortion. The moral judgments of complete strangers take precedence over medical expertise.
In other words, the inherent overlap and clash of values surrounding abortion is what makes it so difficult to negotiate fifty state policies. Most Americans see abortion as a moral dilemma that touches on fundamental, if unspoken, beliefs. To some, the court system isn’t the appropriate venue for resolving emotional conflicts, and others don’t know how to legally empower the legal system to do so. “I fear limiting access to [abortion] because I believe it is too big of a decision for other people to make,” she said.
Even though most Americans don’t give much thought to abortion law or where to draw “the line” in the first place, they may be doing so now more than ever. However, current abortion politics in the United States imply a lack of serious investigation and careful consideration of an issue that has baffled the country for generations.
The top 5 Fall getaways in the Northeast
This story has been updated with new information. Fall brings a welcome respite from summer’s heat and humidity as well...
Giant Slide reopened in the US for the first time since going viral
Thousands of people showed up to the Giant Slide in Detroit on the first weekend it reopened since going viral.
This hiker falls to his death at the Grand Canyon
A hiker walking in Grand Canyon National Park fell approximately 200 feet to his death on Friday afternoon, according to...
Ford fixed a problem with the Mustang that caused many crashes
Ford Mustang prototype mystery of 'The Bulge' has finally been solved.
You can buy a 90s Porsche-inspired boat, if you really want to
Yes, this is a yacht made to kind of look like a 993-generation 911 cabriolet.