New study finds that 2 in 5 people against abortions would still give a loved one a lift to the clinic if in need.
NEW YORK — The Supreme Court may have struck down federal abortion rights granted by Roe v. Wade, but many states will continue to offer the procedure on their own right. One study by New York University researchers earlier this year, however, reports that many Americans who may vehemently oppose abortion would still help a close friend or family member seeking a safe, legal one.
Similarly, yet not as surprisingly, even more Americans who either don’t consider abortion immoral or don’t have an opinion on the subject would also be willing to help a loved one get an abortion.
“Many are willing to or have helped a close friend or family member get a legal abortion, including those who are morally opposed to it,” says lead study author Sarah Cowan, a professor of sociology at NYU, in a university release. “At first blush, these people may appear as hypocrites. They are not. They are at a moral crossroads, pulled by their opposition to abortion and by their inclination to support people they care about.”
These findings stem from surveys conducted between 2018 and 2019, shortly after the passing of a Texas law allowing residents to sue others for allegedly “aiding or abetting” any abortion performed or induced six weeks after pregnancy.
What kind of help are people offering?
Importantly, the research team stresses that while the general findings of the study indicate many Americans would be willing to “help,” the exact definition of that help varied quite a bit from respondent to respondent.
“Americans are more willing to extend emotional support or to assist with the logistics of a close friend or family member’s abortion than they are to help finance the procedure or its related costs,” study authors write in their report. “This distinction may reflect the social meaning of money, whereby spending money is a way to enact one’s values. Refusing to contribute directly to the procedure may be a strategy people who are morally opposed to abortion use to mitigate their conflicting values, putting acceptable distance between their help and the abortion itself.”
Generally, the 2018 portion of the surveys showed 88 percent of Americans would provide emotional support to a friend or loved one seeking an abortion. Seventy-two percent would help prepare the actual abortion arrangements. Over half also said they would be willing to help a loved one cover monthly, ancillary costs while seeking an abortion. Another quarter would help pay for the abortion itself.
Among participants morally against abortion specifically, 76 percent would still offer emotional support. Meanwhile, 96 percent of those with more flexible abortion views said the same. Other forms of help display much larger disparities. For example, only six percent of those opposed to abortion morally would even consider providing any financial assistance. Alternatively, 54 percent of those not morally opposed to abortion would help with costs.
What about smaller, more logistical concerns, like a ride to the abortion clinic? Over 40 percent of those who consider themselves morally opposed would still offer a lift. Conversely, 80 percent of respondents with an “it depends” view on abortion would help with smaller arrangements, and 91 percent of those who support the practice said the same.
Discordant benevolence plays a key role
The study even created a term referring to an individual’s willingness to help despite his or her beliefs: discordant benevolence. The 2019 portion of the surveys indicate that when Americans engage in discordant benevolence (such as helping with an abortion despite personal moral beliefs), they usually convince themselves they’re doing the “right thing” using three mental strategies.
The first is that their particular friend or family member is worthy of help despite their moral “mistakes or imperfections.” The second is that loved ones “get a pass” precisely because they are friends or family, and the third is that other people make independent moral decisions.
“When it comes to abortion,” study co-author Tricia Bruce of the University of Notre Dame concludes, “greater levels of help amplify feelings of inner conflict for Americans who are morally opposed. We found that many will still help friends and family, but moderate how much and why.”
The study is published in the journal Science Advances.
This article was first published February 21, 2022.