When Americans talk about abortion, they often do so in terms of binaries: “pro-life” versus “pro-choice,” “anti-life” versus “anti-choice.” It’s a framework that divides the public, elevates the most extreme voices, and creates an environment in which people are primed to believe only the side with which they agree.
Such a climate becomes a breeding ground for misinformation. For example, although the partisan gap in views around legal abortion has widened in recent years, surveys over the past four decades show that most Americans’ opinions fall somewhere in the middle of the debate. Despite all the fervor around the issue, the most recent studies have found that the number and rate of abortions are lower than at any time since 1973, when the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure nationwide. Data show that it’s not because there are more laws restricting abortion – a growing reality in many states. In fact, abortion rates are higher in countries where the practice is illegal.
And despite growing concern that abortions are becoming more common in the final weeks of a pregnancy, all but 1.3% occur before the 21st week.
Abortion is deeply tangled up in politics, personal beliefs, and individual experience. But the key is to have every conversation, no matter how contentious, grounded in facts.