This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface



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Abortion Data


Some basic facts about the number of abortions in the United States are essential for a complete understanding of the abortion issue. (Data are for 2008 and come from Jones & Kooistra, 2011). [7] Perhaps the most important fact is that about 1.2 million abortions occur annually in the United States, down from a peak of 1.6 million abortions in 1990. This decrease is thought to stem from a drop in unwanted pregnancies (see earlier discussion) and from a decline in facilities that provide abortions because of harassment from abortion opponents and reduced public funding. About 90 percent of abortions are done during the first trimester (approximately twelve weeks).

The abortion rate (number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15–44) differs by region (2008 data) and is highest in the Northeast and lowest in the Midwest (see Figure 9.8 "Regional Differences in Abortion Rates, 2008"). It should be noted, however, that there is much variation within each region. In the West, for example, the abortion rate is 27.6 in California but only 0.9 in Wyoming.



Figure 9.8 Regional Differences in Abortion Rates, 2008

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_008.jpg

Source: Data from Jones, R. K., & Kooistra, K. (2011). Abortion incidence and access to services in the United States, 2008. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 43, 41–50.

These regional and state differences greatly reflect the presence or absence of nearby abortion providers. In many parts of the nation, it is very difficult and even practically impossible for women to get an abortion. Only 13 percent of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States have an abortion provider; one-third of women of childbearing age (15–44) live in the 87 percent of counties that lack any abortion providers (Jones & Kooistra, 2011). [8] These women must travel relatively long distances to a provider and may lack the money or transportation to do so. The percentage of women ages 15–44 in counties with no provider reflects the regional abortion rates in Figure 9.8 "Regional Differences in Abortion Rates, 2008". In the Midwest, 52 percent of these women live in counties without a provider. Comparable figures for the other regions are: Northeast, 18 percent; South, 47 percent; and West, 13 percent. About half of all women in the Midwest and South, then, live in counties without an abortion provider.


Public Views about Abortion


People tend to hold very strong views about abortion, and the news media regularly report on rallies and other events carried out by both sides of the abortion controversy. This news coverage obscures an important fact about public opinion on abortion: The public largely supports abortions that occur under certain circumstances, while it is divided over abortions that occur under other circumstances. On some types of abortions, then, there is a strong public consensus in a favor of abortion, while on other types of abortions there is much disagreement.

The circumstances for which the public largely supports abortions are those where the physical health of the mother is at stake, where the pregnancy resulted from a rape or act of incest, or where the baby is likely to have a serious defect. The circumstances for which the public is divided on abortion are those where a woman wants an abortion for any other reason, including her wish not to have any more children.

We see evidence of these two patterns of abortion opinion in data from the GSS. The GSS regularly asks a series of questions that begin with the following statement: “Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if…” After this initial statement, the question lists a circumstance or reason for an abortion. These scenarios are as follows: (a) The woman’s own health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy; (b) she became pregnant as a result of rape; (c) there is a strong chance of serious defect in the baby; (d) she is married and does not want any more children; (e) the family has a very low income and cannot afford any more children; (f) she is not married and does not want to marry the man; and (g) the woman wants it for any reason.

As Figure 9.9 "Support for Legal Abortion (Percentage Saying a Woman Should Be Able to Obtain a Legal Abortion for Each Circumstance)" shows, strong majorities of the public support a legal abortion for the first three scenarios: the women’s health is endangered, the pregnancy resulted from a rape; or the baby is likely to have a serious defect. On the other hand, only 40–50 percent of the public support a legal abortion for the remaining scenarios: a married woman does not want more children, the family cannot afford more children, an unmarried woman does not want to marry; or a woman wants an abortion for any reason.



Figure 9.9 Support for Legal Abortion (Percentage Saying a Woman Should Be Able to Obtain a Legal Abortion for Each Circumstance)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_009.jpg

Source: Data from General Social Survey. (2010). Retrieved fromhttp://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss10.


Correlates of Public Views


Reflecting the sociological principle that our social backgrounds influence our attitudes and behaviors, several aspects of people’s social backgrounds are associated with their views on abortion. We can illustrate this by using the GSS question that asks whether respondents support a legal abortion “for any reason.” In the entire GSS sample, about 43 percent support legal abortion for any reason; using a common term for people who favor legal abortion, they are entirely pro-choice.

You have probably heard many times that people who are religious tend to oppose abortion rights much more than people who are less religious. Using the GSS “for any reason” item, we would thus expect that very religious people would be much less likely than other people to favor abortion for any reason.Figure 9.10 "Self-Rated Religiosity and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)" shows this is indeed the case. People who say they are not religious are almost four times more likely than those who are very religious to support a legal abortion for any reason.



Figure 9.10 Self-Rated Religiosity and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_010.jpg

Source: Data from General Social Survey. (2010). Retrieved fromhttp://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss10.

You have probably also heard many times that the Catholic Church is a leading opponent of legal abortion. Does this mean that Catholics themselves are less likely than Protestants to support legal abortion for any reason? The answer to this question is no: Figure 9.11 "Religious Preference and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)" shows that Catholics and Protestants are about equally likely to favor legal abortion for any reason, with Jews and people with no religious preference about twice as likely to favor it.



Figure 9.11 Religious Preference and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_011.jpg

Source: Data from General Social Surveys. (2008–2010). Retrieved from http://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss10.

It might make sense to think that women are more likely than men to favor legal abortion. However, there is no gender difference in this regard. As Figure 9.12 "Gender and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)" shows, women are in fact slightly less likely than men to favor legal abortion, although the difference shown in the figure is too small to be statistically significant.



Figure 9.12 Gender and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_012.jpg

Source: Data from General Social Survey. (2010). Retrieved fromhttp://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss10.

Three other aspects of our social backgrounds are rather strongly associated with abortion views: education, our political views, and region of country. People with college degrees are much more likely than those with lower education levels to support legal abortion for any reason (Figure 9.13 "Education and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)"); liberals are twice as likely as conservatives to favor legal abortion (Figure 9.14 "Self-Described Political Views and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)"); and people in the Northeast and West are more likely to favor legal abortion than people in the South and Midwest.



Figure 9.13 Education and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_013.jpg

Source: Data from General Social Survey. (2010). Retrieved fromhttp://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss10.

Figure 9.14 Self-Described Political Views and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_014.jpg

Source: Data from General Social Survey. (2010). Retrieved fromhttp://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss10.

Figure 9.15 Region and Support for Legal Abortion for Any Reason (%)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_015.jpg

Source: Data from General Social Survey. (2010). Retrieved from http://sda.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/hsda?harcsda+gss10.



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