How Americans Understand Abortion

We may think we already know the answer to this question, but common perceptions don’t map well on to what I learned from interviewing 217 ordinary Americans about abortion.

For one, abortion discussions are uncommon or nonexistent in everyday life. The interview was, for many, their first time to talk about abortion beyond simple position labels. Many were still figuring out for themselves what they thought.

Abortion also turns out to be far more personal than political: three-quarters of interviewees knew someone personally who’d had an abortion, and a quarter of our female interviewees had had an abortion, themselves.

Some told us that they vote in ways that don’t always match how they feel. Some contradicted themselves, or openly recognized when they felt conflict between multiple values.

While the abortion decision itself receives the most attention in public debates, in private it is more about what happens before and after that decision: what was the nature of the relationship between conceiving partners? What was the level of efficacy and support? What would long term outcomes look like for all involved? And so forth.

Our report amplifies the voices of a diverse swath of Americans who differ by age, occupation, race, ideology, political party, educational background, religion, and more. Rather than attempting to fit them into the kinds of pre-set categories that survey questions require, we let people talk freely. And we listened.

Read more about what we learned here.

Thank you to the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life for funding this important study, support from Jess Keating, and to my stellar team of interviewers: Bridget Ritz, Maureen Day, Kendra Hutchens, and Patricia Tevington.

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