Many who say they oppose abortion would still help someone who needed one


A new study sheds light on Americans' real attitudes toward abortion and those who seek them.

While some states work to criminalize not just abortion, but the act of helping someone get one, a new study shows that many Americans who identify as morally opposed to the procedure would still assist a friend or family member in obtaining an abortion.

Sarah Cowan, a sociologist who researches abortion, led a team of researchers in examining what they termed "discordant benevolence," or how people decide to help each other when they have conflicting values. The authors stated they chose to focus on abortion because abortion has been a polarizing issue in the United States and because, thanks to restrictions, obtaining an abortion often requires financial or logistical assistance. 

What the study authors found was that, overall, 88% of the study respondents would provide emotional support. To be fair, that number does drop as the type of support becomes more complex or concrete, with 72% saying they would provide tangible support like a ride to a clinic or childcare. Over half of the respondents, the study learned, would pay for costs related to the abortion, with roughly a quarter saying they'd help pay for the procedure. 

Those numbers are for Americans overall, regardless of their views on abortion. The level of support does decrease for people who say they think that abortion is morally wrong, but not as much as one might think. Forty-five percent of those in the study who identified as anti-abortion said they would help a friend or family member with logistics, such as a ride or helping arrange the procedure. Nearly a third of those who said they were morally opposed to abortion — 30% — still said they would spend money to help someone close to them obtain one. As the study authors put it, "people are willing to cross ideological and partisan lines to help others within their personal networks."

Contrast this study, which finds that people want to extend benevolence to those close to them, with proposed laws that pit friends or family against someone who needs an abortion. Right now, Idaho is considering a law that echoes Texas's S.B. 8 law, which allows anyone to sue anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion. Idaho's version is another six-week ban and includes a private enforcement mechanism where people can sue abortion providers who perform the procedure after that six-week mark.

In a difference from Texas, though, Idaho limits the people who can enforce the law. Only immediate family can sue. They can wait until four years after the abortion and they could get a minimum of $20,000 in damages. As with Texas, there is no other way to enforce the law — just these private lawsuits. As with Texas, that will largely insulate Idaho officials from being sued. 

What Idaho's law does is weaponize the family members of someone who had an abortion, allowing them to go after the doctor who performed the procedure sheerly for personal profit. Texas's law, of course, extends that weaponization to literally anyone. The recent study appears to suggest that, if those claiming to be antiabortion would still extend benevolence to people close to them who need an abortion, even if only with emotional support, they may not pursue such private lawsuits. 

However, as Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Idaho State Director Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman explained, the lengthy timeframe in which to sue could create a situation unique to failed romantic relationships, as the father is allowed to sue.

"If you think about a situation where someone is in a relationship and they break up, and the person is upset about the breakup, they could then sue the abortion provider." DelliCarpini-Tolman said. "There's a lot of really cascading negative effects of this bill that are going to essentially make it so that abortion providers in Idaho are just not going to be providing abortions after six weeks."

In the end, though, that might not matter, as the mere threat of the consequences, combined with the very short timeframe in which to obtain the procedure, has made abortion nearly completely unavailable in Texas since S.B. 8 went into effect on September 1, 2021. In the first 30 days of the law being in effect, abortions dropped 60%. Other states are straining to meet the need, with Planned Parenthood in surrounding states reporting a 1,082% increase in patients in that first month. 

And as far as Idaho, DelliCarpini-Tolman explained that the bill will essentially "make it so that abortion providers in Idaho are just not going to be providing abortions after six weeks."

Once the United States Supreme Court refused to block S.B. 8, it opened the floodgates for other states to consider such laws. Idaho looks poised to pass their version. The Guttmacher Institute, which tracks anti-abortion laws, predicts that at least 14 states would consider similar bills allowing for private enforcement. In January, the conservative GOP governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, introduced a Texas copycat bill. Conservative legislators in Ohio have also floated this idea, as have lawmakers in Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.