When People Learn Why People Actually Get Later Abortions, They Support Them

When it comes to polling, how you ask a question is always as important as the topic you are polling on. The nuance involved in simple phrasing and word choice is key to the reaction you will receive from your respondents, and almost any question can be manipulated in order to create the desired end result.

It’s with that understanding in mind that it makes so much sense that Americans can both be adamantly opposed to so called “late term” abortions, what anti-choice activists have dubbed any abortion done after the first trimester, even if the procedure is done weeks prior to the fetus’s ability to survive outside the womb.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this summer that asked about support for a potential 20 week abortion ban exemplifies this situation. The pollsters asked, “The U.S. Supreme Court said abortion is legal without restrictions in about the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Some states have passed laws reducing this to 20 weeks. If it has to be one or the other, would you rather have abortions legal without restriction up to 20 weeks or up to 24 weeks?”

The question as it was written is disingenuous. There is almost no state that allows abortion without restriction up to 24 weeks in this country, instead restricting the procedure either by lack of available clinics, waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds or limits on the type of procedure that can be performed and who can do the termination as a result. There is little surprise that with that erroneous assertion in the poll itself, 56 percent of those who responded said they would support an earlier ban.

A National Journal poll shows that when the question is posed as “banning abortion after 20 weeks except in cases of rape and incest that are reported to the authorities,” the results turn out differently. In that case, only 48 percent support a ban. Results can also be manipulated even further by throwing in a disproven claim that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks post fertilization (it can’t), which in one Texas poll then put respondents in favor of a ban by a resounding 62 percent.

How the question is asked can lead to favorable results, as well. When Planned Parenthood did their own polling on a 20 week ban and supplied a variety of reasons a person might need a termination that late in a pregnancy, respondents were quite sympathetic and supported the decision. Two thirds of those questioned believed that if a woman’s health would be jeopardized by continuing the pregnancy she should be allowed to have an abortion, and about 60 percent said the same if the fetus were not viable or would have severe disabilities, or the pregnant person were a victim of sexual assault, as opposed to the other polls where the sexual assault must be reported to the authorities first.

Just as important as how a question is asked is how the results are interpreted. A Huffington Post poll showed that 49 percent of respondents said abortion was “morally wrong,” and 51 percent said that either it was morally acceptable, not a moral issue at all or that they were unsure how they felt. One conclusion that could be drawn: a small majority of the country does not believe abortion is morally wrong. The conclusion taken by anti-choice activists looking at a Pew Poll with identical results? “Pew Poll Shows Few Americans Find Abortion Morally Acceptable.”

In the end, abortion polling tells us very little about public opinion other than the fact that much of it can be easily manipulated, and that when presented with actual cases of those who need to end a pregnancy, a majority tends to support those individual decisions once they are presented in a less abstract manner. The results show why the decision should be left up to the patient and her provider, and why public opinion polling is too volatile to use as an excuse to limit her rights.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jerome S
Jerome S7 months ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven7 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Ann G.
Ann G4 years ago

This is a great article, but one thing I wanted to point out is that "The results show why the decision should be left up to the patient and her provider, and why public opinion polling is too volatile to use as an excuse to limit her rights" should use gender-neutral pronouns. Not all people who can/do get pregnant are women.

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

Thank you!

Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

It's incredable to me that so many people think it's any of their business what private re-productive decisions other's make. Do they really think we haven't heard all their viewpoints a million times? Do they really think anyone will change their mind, on either side of the debate?But every year our legislators have to waste lots of money and time putting on this big show pretending to care about the opinions of judgmental busybodies who have no power to do anything but obstruct.They need to be ignored, their obstructions removed, and invited to do something that actually helps low income women avoid unwanted pregnancy, or support children already born. Anything less is insanity .Enough of this !

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

a mothers health should come first and the religitards screaming "life life life" for the fetus sure do disappear when the mother cant feed or care for the unwanted child.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago


Franck Rio
Past Member 4 years ago


Deborah L.
Deborah k4 years ago

Elizabeth B: well you talk about innocent life. I am not certain if you follow the Christian beliefs, but if you do, according to the teachings from that religious puzzle piece, babies are not innocent as they have to be baptized because of original sin. Also, according to the teachings of the Christian God, there is no innocent life and also God does not recognize a new born human as a living entity until after "he" God puts the first breath of life into that new body himself.

So if you look at it from the religious views you do not need to get stressed out. And every woman who had an abortion for whatever reason DOES think about the potential life of that child, whether she tries to deliver it or abort it. Sometimes things go very wrong, is it acceptable to allow a woman to die by refusing her a life saving legal surgical procedure ? what if she has a husband or other children who rely on her ? What if she is the sole caretaker of elderly parents and if continuing a pregnancy would kill her and leave her parents at the mercy of others ?

Every pregnancy is different and that is where the medical experts and not politicians, religious leaders or others should trump in medical decisions.

Elizabeth Baldwin

I understand women's rights but my only problem is there's an innocent life that nobody seems to think about. Doesn't the most innocent have any choice to just live? I know there re other variables...still I see an innocent life that is ended. I understand some women feel its the only way...but still I see an innocent not having any rights. If a man murders a pregnant woman he gets charged for 2 murders. How is it murder in that sense but not in another?

I'm for the most innocent. I know some people in here will hate me but I love animals, people and yes babies. Animals and babies cant speak for themselves...it takes someone to stand for them! I stand for innocence.