chart of responses to question about what abortion experience should be like

New poll finds public is outraged by anti-choice laws once they learn about them

Regular readers of Feministing are well aware of the hundreds of state laws restricting abortion access that have been passed in the last several years—after all, we talk about it all all the time. 

But not everyone is. The brilliant thing about an incremental state-level anti-choice strategy is that it can be easy for the average person to miss. There’s been no blanket federal abortion ban that makes national headlines and provokes mass protests—just 318 state laws passed since 2010 that each, individually, made the procedure just a little harder to get but collectively make it all but impossible for millions of Americans in many states.

It’s not surprising then that much of the public has no idea just how many barriers to abortion care politicians have enacted lately. A new national poll commissioned by the National Institute for Reproductive Health (full disclosure: I used to work there) finds that less than half of voters are aware of this trend. But once they learn about it, they’re not happy about it. Nearly two thirds say these anti-choice laws are taking us in the wrong direction and huge majorities support policy proposals to, well, basically undo them: to ensure, above all, that abortion is regulated based on medical evidence, not politicians’ political beliefs.

Like a recent survey by Vox, the NIRH poll also found widespread agreement about what the abortion experience should be like: safe, legal, informed by accurate medical information, respectful, supportive, affordable, and without shame.

chart of responses to question about what abortion experience should be like


Only about one in five respondents said getting an abortion should be emotionally difficult, expensive, uncomfortable, embarrassing, or difficult in terms of travel or logistics. In other words, the vast majority of American voters—whether they identify as pro-choice or pro-life, whether they think abortion is morally wrong or not, whether they’d personally get one or wouldn’t dream of it—think abortion should be a positive experience for those who do chose it. Which makes them utterly out of step with the anti-choice extremists currently populating our state legislatures—a fact they may just not realize.

There’s hope that tide may be turning though. NIRH reports that the number of proactive pro-choice state bills, both proposed and enacted, more than doubled between 2014 and 2015. Last year, 76 of them passed in 31 states. And NIRH  is looking to make it even easier for advocates and lawmakers to go on the legislative offensive with a “playbook for abortion rights” that includes dozens of model bills to advance reproductive health and rights. It’s a page literally out of the anti-choice movement’s playbook: Americans United for Life’s model legislation has spread like wildfire throughout the states. If it’s been a winning strategy for an agenda only a vocal minority of Americans support, it’s past time for those of us with public opinion on our side to get in the game.

Enough is truly enough.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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