A new study led by Dr. Danielle Bessett, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati, has found that many in the U.S. are ignorant about basic facts related to abortion. Out of the 569 people Bessett polled, only 13 percent were able to correctly answer four or five of the survey questions, out of six total. Bessett conducted the survey to investigate the hypothesis that a person’s knowledge about abortion and reproductive health can be shaped by where the state fits on the political spectrum, i.e., the red-versus-blue divide.
Bessett's research team gathered a sampling of respondents from blue states (53%), red states (26%), and swing states (20%). 37 percent of the respondents identified as liberal, 38 percent considered themselves moderate, and 25 percent saw themselves as conservative. Initially, the results supported the hypothesis that a state’s political leanings have an influence on a resident’s abortion knowledge. However, once the researchers took more personal characteristics into account – a person’s political beliefs and their personal beliefs about abortion – the red-versus-blue divide became less relevant. According to the researchers, the “data does not support the red-versus-blue state hypothesis: geography does not dictate the world views of American. Some individuals in all setting do have accurate information about abortion, regardless of political context.”
What is more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that the majority of the respondents seemed unaware of some basic information about abortion. Only 31 percent of the respondents knew that giving birth was a greater health risk than a first trimester abortion. 63 percent of the respondents erroneously believed that there is a connection between breast cancer and abortion. 65 percent either believed or were unsure if a woman’s abortion would make it difficult for her to physically have children in the future. Amidst this confusion, the most heartening response to the survey was that 83 percent of the respondents knew that first trimester abortions are legal in the US.
These gaps in our knowledge point to a very targeted misinformation campaign by anti-abortion advocates. The breast cancer and abortion link, for example, has been thoroughly disputed by sound and reputable doctors and scientists. Yet, despite the fact that this myth has no medical or scientific bearing, anti-abortion activists in five states (AK, KS, MS, OK, TX) have successfully fought to get this information included in the mandated counseling women must receive before obtaining an abortion. The Guttmacher Institute refers to this targeted misinformation as “misinformed consent.” While these gaps are disheartening, they come as no surprise to reproductive justice advocates across the U.S. So much anti-abortion legislation reinforces these common abortion myths – it’s no wonder that people have a difficult time sorting out what’s true and what’s not.