Liberal and Conservative States Equally Clueless About Abortions

woman pregnancy test
(Image credit: Diego Cervo |

Americans living in politically liberal states and those living in conservative states have an equally low understanding of abortion's health effects and the laws regarding the procedure, a new national survey finds.

Just 74 out of the 569 people who took the survey answered at least four of the five questions about abortion correctly. The question that the greatest number people answered correctly was the one that asked whether it is legal to get an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy. In response, 7 percent of respondents incorrectly said "no," and another 11 percent were unsure. (Abortion during the first three months of pregnancy is legal in the United States.)

But only about a third of respondents knew that having an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy carries fewer health risks for women than giving birth, or that women who have abortions before 12 weeks of pregnancy do not face an increased risk of serious mental-health problems. [11 Big Fat Pregnancy Myths]

There were no differences in people's knowledge about abortion's health effects or abortion laws across liberal and conservative states, after the researchers took into account the respondents' individual characteristics, such as their political beliefs and whether they knew someone who had an abortion, the researchers said.

"Data does not support the red-versus-blue state hypothesis: Geography does not dictate the world views of Americans," lead researcher Danielle Bessett, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of sociology, said in a statement. "Some individuals in all settings do have accurate information about abortion, regardless of political context."

The researchers also found that only 37 percent of respondents knew that women who have an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy are not more likely to have breast cancer than if they were to continue the pregnancy, and 35 percent knew that such women would not face a more difficult time becoming pregnant in the future.

When asked where they live, 53 percent of the participants reported living in a blue state, 26 percent in a red state and 20 percent in a swing state such as Ohio.

The respondents, ages 18 to 44, were randomly selected to take the online questionnaire. Fifty-three percent of the respondents were male. Thirty-eight percent of the participants said they were politically moderate, 37 percent identified as very or somewhat liberal and 25 percent reported they were somewhat or very conservative.

About one in three women in the U.S. has an abortion by age 45, the researchers said.

Twelve percent of respondents said they had a personal experience with abortion, and 65 percent reported that they knew someone who had an abortion.

The findings suggest that people in the U.S. are not well informed about the relative safety of abortion, or the laws surrounding it, the researchers said. More comprehensive and evidence-based resources could help educate the public about the health and legal issues concerning abortion, they said.

The study was presented today (Aug. 18) at the meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.

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Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.