Many Who Oppose Abortions Do Help Friend Or Family Member In Seeking One
An abortion is a woman’s choice and she may have many reasons to choose it. However, we live in a society that has its moral views on it. A new analysis of both public opinion data and in-depth interviews has found that a substantial minority of Americans morally opposed to abortion would nonetheless offer help to a friend or close family member who is seeking one.
Notably, these views are similar to those held by Americans who don’t deem abortion immoral or who are ambivalent about it. The study was published in the journal, ‘Science Advances’.
“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,” said Sarah Cowan, a professor of sociology at New York University and the lead author of the article.
“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.”
The publication of the study, drawn from surveys and interviews conducted in 2018 and 2019, comes after the passage of a Texas law that allows individuals in the U.S. to sue anyone in the state who the plaintiffs believe “aided or abetted” any abortion performed or induced six weeks after pregnancy. The study’s researchers, who also included Tricia Bruce and Bridget Ritz at the University of Notre Dame, Brea Perry and Elizabeth Anderson at Indiana University, and Stuart Perrett at NYU, also cautioned that the types of assistance Americans are willing to provide varied.
“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,” the authors wrote.
“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.”
They developed a term to capture the willingness to provide help when doing so conflicts with personal values: discordant benevolence. More broadly, the question of what we do when a request for help from friends or family members invokes conflicting values is a common one–whether it is helping a friend cheat on an exam or to cover up a sibling’s misbehaviour.
In the ‘Science Advances’ study, the team sought to better understand how we navigate our desire to help others when doing so may run counter to our values. They focused on abortion because of Americans’ strongly held views on this issue, because it’s a common procedure, and because its financial and logistical requirements typically require help from loved ones.
To do so, the researchers examined both data from the 2018 General Social Survey (GSS), which measures public opinion on a range of concerns, and 74 of 217 in-depth interviews from the National Abortion Attitudes Study. The GSS data showed the following: Overall, 88 per cent of Americans said they would provide emotional support and 72 per cent would help with arrangements, such as a ride or childcare, while over half would help pay for ancillary costs–and around a quarter would help pay for the abortion itself.
Of those morally opposed to abortion, 76 per cent said they would offer emotional support–compared to 96 per cent of those who are not morally opposed or who say their view depends on the circumstances. However, there were much greater differences among other forms of support. Only 6 per cent of those morally opposed would help a friend or relative pay for the procedure, compared to the 54 per cent who are not morally opposed. Smaller distinctions were found among attitudes on making arrangements for an abortion (e.g., giving a ride to a clinic).
Over 40 per cent of those morally opposed said they would help a friend or close relative in this instance, compared to nearly 80 per cent who hold an “it depends” view and 91 per cent who are not morally opposed. The interviews, conducted in 2019 in different regions around the U.S., showed how Americans who engage in discordant benevolence made sense of it for themselves. Three logics dominated: one, a view that friends or family members are worthy of help despite imperfections; two, that friends and family constitute an exception precisely because they are friends/family; and three, that friends or family members make independent moral decisions.
All three logics–which the researchers named “commiseration,” “exemption,” and “discretion,” respectively–facilitated discordant benevolence. “When it comes to abortion,” said co-author Bruce, “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.