Who seeks later abortion? News vs. Reality

Membership Call: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 12:30 PM EST

Findings on a study on news coverage of 20-week abortion bans and findings from ANSIRH’s study on who seeks abortion at 20 weeks and later were discussed.

News Analysis
Articles published between July and December 2013 in the New York Times, USA Today, and Washington Post and including the terms “abortion” & “20 weeks” were read and coded. Two thirds of the sample of 85 articles were news/analysis, and one third were opinion pieces. Texas abortion bills (30%), political analysis (25%), and polling analysis/public opinion research (11%) were the most common topics. A woman’s story of obtaining a later abortion was included in only three articles. Argument frames for and against these bans were analyzed. There were more frames for arguments opposing such bans, and more variety among them. These frames included the constitutionality of bans, the war on women, the danger of bans beginning a slippery slope, endangering women’s health, the need for later abortion due to fetal anomaly, and women’s right to choose. There were three primary frames in support of bans all centered on the fetus: 18 articles focused on fetal pain, seven articles focused on the state interest to protect life, and six articles focused on the fetus as a member of the human family. 

ANSIRH study
ANSIRH conducted interviews with women one week post-abortion who were recruited from 16 providing sites that offer abortions past 20 weeks. Participants were excluded if seeking an abortion for fetal anomaly or medical reasons. Later abortion seekers were more likely to be younger and less likely to be employed. Women that sought later abortion were more likely to have recognized their pregnancy at eight weeks or later, and to have traveled three hours or more to obtain an abortion. Causes for delay shared by women in both groups include delayed pregnancy recognition, difficulty deciding, and disagreement with a partner. Women seeking later abortion care reported additional barriers including finding a facility, travel to a facility, raising money for the abortion and obtaining health insurance.

Researchers determined that 80% of women who seek abortion after 20 weeks fall into one of five profiles. These include: women raising children alone (47%), women with substance abuse or mental health problems (30%), women who experience recent violence or conflict with partner (24%), women who had trouble deciding what to do & trouble finding a facility (22%), women under age 20 who had never given birth (12%). 

News coverage of later abortion presents a very different picture from reality. Research shows barriers are the same for most women seeking abortion, but have a more serious impact on those seeking abortion after 20 weeks. Policies that restrict abortion access contribute to delays in care earlier in a pregnancy. There is tension between the messaging that we want women to be able to access abortions earlier, and the reality that some women may need more time to make their decision. By bringing these types of questions to public opinion surveys, we reinforce the idea that the public has a right to weigh in on a woman’s decision.