Forty years after the Supreme Court delivered its historic decision on Roe v. Wade, abortion still provokes spirited debate between pro-life and pro-choice factions (note: More is following Gallup’s lead in using the terms pro-life and pro-choice). But recently, say some experts, it looks as if the needle has moved a bit in the restrictive direction.
The General Social Survey—a biennial poll conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, a well-respected, independent research organization—finds that under certain circumstances, people have become slightly less willing to accept women having abortions. In the 1990s, for instance, 83 percent of Americans, on average, felt it was all right for abortions to take place after a woman had been raped; in the 2000s and 2010, that number fell to 78 percent. Similarly, in the ’90s, 45 percent of Americans would have allowed abortions for pregnant women who did not want to marry the father, but now just 42 percent would. Members of every generation have become a little more conservative about abortion than they were 10 years ago, says Clyde Wilcox, PhD, a professor of government at Georgetown University and a coauthor of Between Two Absolutes, an analysis of abortion attitudes.
Why the move toward the pro-life side? One factor may be the growing use of sonograms, which reveal stages of fetal development that most of us had never seen before. Publicity about late-term abortions has also raised the specter of terminating fetuses that are potentially viable outside the womb, a phase that is generally believed to begin at 24 weeks. And there’s been increased acceptance of having children out of wedlock and of raising children with special needs.
Going against this trend are people who have migrated to the pro-choice side. “Personal experience comes into play,” says Kate Cockrill, who studies abortion stigma through a program at the University of California, San Francisco. “There might be folks who have never thought about abortion before and, when pushed to deal with it in their own lives, decided they felt something different than they originally thought they would.” Other women may line up on the pro-choice side when they are struggling financially (six out of 10 women who have abortions are already mothers). And knowing someone who’s had an abortion can tip the scales: Americans with a close friend or family member who has undergone one are significantly more likely to support its being legal or accessible, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
Starting on the opposite page are the stories of 10 women who changed their minds.
Abortion: some facts
- Nearly one in three American women will have an abortion by the time she is 45.
- Among over-40 women, 46 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion.
- Women in their twenties account for the majority of abortions (58 percent), teenagers for about 18 percent.
- Catholic women obtain abortions at the same rate as other women.
- Some 90 percent of abortions take place during the first trimester.
- Only 13 percent of U.S. counties have abortion providers. The procedure is most available in the Northeast and the West.
- In 2011, 24 states passed 92 restrictions limiting access to abortion.
- Fifty-two percent of females support laws that require women who want an abortion to see an ultrasound of their fetus.
Pro-Choice to Pro-Life
"A movie about abortion sparked my interest," Kathy Ireland, 49, former model, now CEO and chief designer of Kathy Ireland Worldwide; Santa Barbara, California
When I was growing up, both of my parents were pro-choice. My dad worked for the farmworkers’ union, led by César Chávez, and I spent a lot of time at rallies in support of the grape boycott. My mom was a nurse, and she was taught in training that a fetus is just a clump of cells and that women have a choice about what goes on inside their bodies. I assumed I was pro-choice. I believed, Who am I to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body?