What Americans Get Wrong About Abortion

It's a polarizing issue — and one we could be more informed about.

Most Americans believe abortions are more dangerous than they actually are.

Recent polls by both the University of Cincinnati and Vox Media indicate that the majority of Americans don't have a basic understanding of abortion.

Vox's research, which polled 1,600 registered voters, asked whether childbirth was more safe, as safe, or less safe than abortion. Almost 80 percent of respondents said childbirth was more safe or as safe.

The data actually suggests abortions are significantly safer than childbirth. In 2012, only two of the 730,322 women who had abortions died. Comparatively, there are 17.8 pregnancy- or childbirth-related deaths for every 100,000 births.

A UC San Francisco study also found that any serious complications in the first six weeks after an abortion were very rare. The study followed 54,911 women who had abortions between 2009 and 2010 in California. In that group, just 126 had conditions that required hospital admission, surgery or a blood transfusion. Additionally, a little less than two percent of all the abortions, some 1,030 cases, resulted in minor complications in the six weeks after the procedure. 

For comparison, the rate of serious complications for Americans who had wisdom teeth removed (seven percent) or a tonsillectomy (nine percent) are more than three times higher.

Of course, these misconceptions have real-world implications. 57 abortion restrictions were enacted on abortion clinics in 2015 alone, many of them requiring the implementation of stringent standards similar to those of ambulatory surgical centers. The authors of those laws cite safety as their driving force, but UCSF's research suggests such measures aren't necessary.  

Clinics are shutting down and women are traveling longer distances or engaging in unsafe practices to terminate pregnancies.

Many participants in both the University of Cincinnati research and the Vox research also seriously underestimated how many women get abortions each year. Just 17 percent of Americans in the Vox poll accurately answered that 25-34 percent of all women will terminate a pregnancy once in their life. 61 percent of the participants underestimated the number, guessing something lower than 25 percent.

Of course, some Americans oppose abortion for religious or moral reasons. In fact, 43 percent of Americans say abortion should be illegal in all cases. But those who perpetuate a myth that abortions are unsafe should know that the truth is quite the opposite. 

Cover photo: Olivier Douliery / Getty Images.