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60 Percent of Americans Support Access to Abortion at 20 Weeks in Cases of Severe Fetal Abnormalities


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Planned Parenthood Federation of America


Planned Parenthood Federation of America media office: 212-261-4433


August 29, 2013


May 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — The first poll that reflects the reality of abortion later in pregnancy was released today, showing that when voters understand the real-world circumstances surrounding abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, they overwhelmingly oppose laws that would ban the procedure at that stage.

When they are reminded that abortions are very rare at this stage in pregnancy and that fetal abnormalities are often involved in the instances, a solid 60 percent of registered voters support access to abortion at 20 weeks, with only 33 percent opposing access. Abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare (nearly 99 percent of abortions in the U.S. occur before 21 weeks), but when it does happen it’s often in heartbreaking and tragic situations involving severe abnormalities.

Unlike other polls, this survey — of 1,011 registered voters from all major parties — asked about the specific circumstances in which abortions should and should not be allowed after the 20th week of a woman’s pregnancy. Once Americans understand the range of circumstances in which abortion would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals — like the ones approved by the House of Representatives this year and the ones passed by some state legislatures this year — they oppose the bans overwhelmingly.

“The margins in opposition to these bans are so significant that we think it is very likely that they would be voted down in a popular referendum in virtually any state of the country, after people have had a chance to learn about the real-world consequences of them,” writes Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates. “Moreover, our survey shows that the overwhelming majority of voters across party lines say this is the wrong issue for Congress and state legislators to be spending time on.”

“Abortion is a deeply personal, often complex decision for a woman to make in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her faith, and we cannot make that decision for her.  We are not in her shoes,” said Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  “While women should not have to justify their personal medical decisions, the reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is rare and often happens under heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.  Unfortunately opponents of safe and legal abortion have tried to distort that reality, and it is important for us to get the truth out there.”   

The nationwide poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, showed that a strong majority of voters — Republicans (62 percent), Democrats (78 percent), and Independents (71 percent) — say this is the wrong issue for Congress and their state legislators to be spending time on.  

Doctors oppose these laws because they prevent them from giving their patients the best health care possible in an individual situation. Medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Physicians for Reproductive Health have spoken out about the dangers of this legislation.

Among the poll’s key findings:

  • Sixty-six percent (66%) of all voters say abortions should be legal after 20 weeks if a woman’s doctor determines that the woman would suffer serious, long-lasting health problems if she carried the pregnancy to term.
  • Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters say abortions should be legal after 20 weeks if a woman's doctor determines that the fetus is not yet viable and the woman and her family determine that her health and personal circumstances are such that she should not continue her pregnancy.
  • Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters say abortions should be legal after 20 weeks if a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

You can read the full polling memo here

In states that have passed laws that ban abortion after 20 weeks, some women and their families have been put into unimaginable situations — needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons, but unable to because of extreme laws that don’t reflect the real-world situations women, their families and their doctors face.

Julie Bindeman and her husband found themselves in just this situation. They decided that they wanted to have a second child. She went in for a routine doctor’s visit and went for a 20-week scan to determine whether they were having a boy or a girl. The doctor looked at her and said, “I’m so sorry. What they found at the scan was that the brain ventricles were enlarged.” The doctor told them that other aspects of the brain were very malformed — diagnosing ventriculomegaly with the likelihood of anencephaly, a severe fetal abnormality incompatible with life.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” Julie Bindeman said. “This has to do with the choices that my husband and I needed to make.”