Most women of child-bearing age were unfamiliar with their state’s abortion laws and commonly repeated abortion myths, a national survey finds.
The findings, which appear in the journal Contraception, suggest that inaccurate knowledge of abortion laws could be an additional barrier to care in environments that are hostile toward abortion.
“Women have low levels of knowledge about abortion laws, with consistently low knowledge across the United States,” says lead author Jonas Swartz, medical director of family planning in Duke University’s department of obstetrics and gynecology.
“When considering women’s understanding about the safety of abortion and impact on health, inaccurate anti-abortion messaging and poor sexual health knowledge appears to outweigh abundant and compelling contrary evidence.”
Swartz and colleagues received 1,057 surveys from a cross-section of English- and Spanish-speaking women between the ages of 18-49 in the United States. The surveys asked 12 questions about laws regulating abortion in a respondent’s state and five questions on common abortion myths.
The mean score for the group was just over two correct answers out of twelve on the laws. For three of the five myths about abortion, women endorsed myths over facts. Women who believe abortion should be illegal, and those living in states with neutral or hostile state policies toward abortion were more likely to have poor knowledge of the law.
“States vary significantly in their regulation of abortion and, unfortunately, misinformation about abortion is often part of state-mandated scripts that providers are required to recite,” Swartz says.
Poverty, low levels of education, or low health literacy did not appear to be factors affecting knowledge of state abortion laws, says Swartz.
Myths that persisted included misinformation on abortion safety. While the risk of death from childbirth is 14 times that of death from abortion, respondents in the study were more likely to view childbirth as safer than abortion.
They were also likely to believe abortion has adverse psychological consequences, which has been disproven in the short and long term.
“Our findings should serve as a guide for physicians to ensure their patients have accurate knowledge about their reproductive rights,” Swartz says.
Additional coauthors are from the University of North Carolina. Support for the study came from the Society of Family Planning Research Fund.
Source: Duke University