Analysis Abortion

New Public Opinion Research on Abortion Suggests Fresh Approaches for Advocates

Marjorie Signer

There  are so many surveys about abortion that it's practically a cottage  industry, but the newest - by The Public Religion Research Institute of  Washington, DC - suggests intriguing and fresh approaches that can help  advocates make a more compelling case.

There are so many surveys about abortion that it’s practically a cottage industry, but the newest research – by The Public Religion Research Institute of Washington, DC – suggests intriguing and fresh approaches that can help advocates make a more compelling case. For religious advocates in particular, the finding that majorities of most major religious groups favor legalized abortion is significant. As RCRC demonstrates, religious communities can be an important ally in the movement for reproductive rights and justice.  Now, the broader community of advocates has the data and together we can appeal to more people of faith and religious leaders and put to rest the false media-generated  stereotype about religion being against legal abortion.

These are the impressive statistics: 67 percent of white mainline Protestants support legal abortion in most or all cases, as do 66percent of African American Protestants, 54 percent of White Catholics, and a whopping 69 percent of those who are unaffiliated (versus the general population figure of 56 percent). And the numbers are growing, perhaps in response to unfair and unprincipled legislative attacks on abortion and family planning as well as the offensive tactics of extremists who cloak themselves in the mantle of religion.

The survey zeroes in on Millennials (ages 18 to 29) and analyzes their support for abortion compared to their support for same-sex marriage. Young people are very supportive of same-sex marriage but no more supportive of abortion than their parents, leading to the survey conclusion that the so-called “values agenda”  – the term coined by the media after the 2004 election to include abortion and gay rights – is defunct. It seems to me that there’s a simple explanation for this disparity, grounded in experience if not data:  younger people have grown up with same-sex marriage and have been educated about the injustice of sex discrimination in private family decisions, whereas abortion has been the subject of continuous and vicious legislative attacks and stigmatizing in the media and culture in general.

But it’s the finding about “access” that is a potential game-changer: 58 percent of  Americans say that at least some health care professionals in their communities should provide legal abortions and among Millennials, 68 percent think abortion services should be available in their community. In addition, further shattering false stereotypes about religious views, majorities of all major religious groups agree that at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions (with the exceptions of Latino Catholics and White evangelical Protestants). This is particularly significant: 72 percent of White mainline Protestants, 56 percent of African American Protestants, and 58% of White Catholics think abortion services should be available not only at the community level but in THEIR communities. The hospitals that refuse to provide abortion services (mostly religiously affiliated) need to hear that.

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Couple that with another game-changing finding – that most people describe themselves as both pro-life and pro-choice (although the term pro-choice is seen as more socially acceptable) – and new possibilities open up. Perhaps advocates can at long last replace the term “choice” – so problematic because of its association with consumerism – and the legalistic  term “rights” with a term free of negative moralistic judgments: access. 

Which brings me to another intriguing finding: that people of all ages are conflicted about the morality of abortion. We at RCRC have a different interpretation, based on our experience in counseling women with unintended pregnancies and with activists in our Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom program. Millennials have grown up in the most diverse and pluralistic society in America’s history and recognize and respect differing moral views about abortion. In our experience, Millennials support access to abortion services in large part because they believe that individuals should be able to obtain the health services that they themselves determine they need  – based on their religious and moral values, conscience and circumstances.

In a significant finding, 59 percent of Millennials surveyed said they think that “abortion can be the most responsible decision a woman can make in certain circumstances.”  Similarly, women considering abortion are weighing many factors in a morally complex decision; they may be morally conflicted in the abstract but they are generally clear about their own situation. The bottom line, though, is that while people have conflicting views about the morality of abortion – meaning they can see different perspectives and understand different arguments they are not conflicted about the reality of the need for abortion: they want abortion to remain legal and to be accessible in their own communities.

It was troubling to learn that at least half of survey respondents reported having heard their clergyperson talk unfavorably about abortion and homosexuality. While 72% believe you can disagree with the teachings of your religion about abortion and still be considered “a person of good standing” in your faith, it does suggest that women are not getting the support they need and deserve from their religious advisers.  After all, three-quarters of women who have an abortion identify themselves as religious. Advocates who are religiously affiliated might want to talk to their clergy-person about being more understanding and supportive of women grappling with a complex moral decision. To help, RCRC offers training in All Options Clergy Counseling, to prepare clergy to provide non-judgmental support as women decide what fits best with their values, hopes, and circumstances.

After reading and rereading the data, considering possible biases and communicating with Robert Jones, founder of CEO of the The Public Religion Research Institute, I’m cautiously optimistic that there IS something new, positive and important when it comes to research on abortion attitudes. It’s about moral perspectives and moral complexity and it could put us once again on the high ground. Let’s get this right!

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”


Tell us your story. Have religious restrictions affected your ability to access health care? Email

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.


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