An amusingly confused (and misleading) study of red and blue state knowledge about abortion

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. My family will be on vacation through the end of next week. I will be posting an occasional new story, but for the most part we will be re-posting columns that ran over the last year. Many will be strictly educational while some will about remind us of notable victories this legislative cycle.

Prof. Danielle Bessett

Prof. Danielle Bessett

You simply have to smile and laugh when you read so many “academic” studies that purport to tell you this or that about what Americans believe (or, in this case, know) about abortion. A friend forwarded me reports on a study out of the University of Cincinnati, the primary conclusion of which is to debunk the conclusion that there is a “red state/blue state” divide over abortion.

Here’s the primary finding:

“A new national survey reveals that the political divide among red-versus-blue states does not support the hypothesis that knowledge about abortion and health is shaped by the state in which one lives.”

More specifically, Danielle Bessett, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of sociology, says she and her co-researchers found that their “data does not support the red-versus-blue state hypothesis: geography does not dictate the world views of Americans. Some individuals in all settings do have accurate information about abortion, regardless of political context.” (Research on the responses of 569 people nationwide, we read, was presented at the 109th Meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.)

There was no divide because roughly the same percentage of people, whether in the bluest of states, the reddest of states, or those living in more purple states, came to the “correct” conclusion.

 

So why is this worth our time to review? Because supposedly (a) only small portion of people ponied up the “correct” answer, while, in fact, (b) it was the much larger percentage who we were told gave the “incorrect” answer who actually were on to the truth!

Put another way, the researchers “knew” what the truth was and most of those poor dolts didn’t have a clue—evidence of a kind of uniformity of ignorance. Here are four of the questions, the responses, and Bessett’s complete mischaracterization of the answers. After that we will match the “conclusion” with reality.

Here are four of the questions, the responses, and Bessett’s complete mischaracterization of the answers:

A woman who has an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy is more likely to have breast cancer than if she were to continue the pregnancy.

Correct answer: disagree somewhat/disagree strongly. Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 37 percent

A woman who has an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy is more at risk of a serious mental health problem than if she were to continue that pregnancy.

Correct answer: disagree somewhat/disagree strongly. Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 31 percent

A woman having an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy is more likely to have difficulty getting pregnant in the future.

Correct answer: disagree somewhat/disagree strongly. Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 35 percent

Abortion during the first three months of pregnancy is legal in the U.S.

Correct answer: true. Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 83 percent.

Okay, let’s dig in.

#1. This is, of course, about the association between having an induced abortion and increasing a woman’s subsequent risk of breast cancer (the “ABC link”). According to Bessett, the “correct” answer is to disagree somewhat or strongly. Only 37% passed her test. In fact what this answer really shows is that regardless of “political viewpoints,” a whopping 63% agreed (somewhat or strongly) that there is a linkage.

#2. Likewise, only 31% gave the “correct” answer—disagreeing that having an abortion increases a woman’s risk of subsequent serious mental health problems. Almost 70% of Americans of all stripes agreed!

#3. Some 35% gave the “correct” answer—they disagreed that having an abortion means a woman is more likely to have trouble getting pregnant again. That leaves almost exactly 2/3rds (65%) who agreed!

#4. There were 17% who didn’t know abortion is legal in the first three months. That’s amazing and appalling. But just to complete the circle of inaccuracy from Prof. Bessett, while abortion is legal in the first three months, it is not legal only in the first three months, as we have discussed countless times.

Under Roe (and its companion case Doe v. Bolton) no restrictions were allowed prior to “viability.” In 1996, the Washington Post’s Dr. David Brown wrote, “Contrary to a widely held public impression, third trimester abortion is not outlawed in the United States.” He noted that given the expansive definition of “health” in the Doe decision, “life-threatening conditions need not exist for a woman to get a third-trimester abortion.”

Prof. Bessett would no doubt be appalled if she read our conclusion: The results of this survey are very encouraging.