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Most Women Have Low Knowledge of State Abortion Laws and Perpetuate Myths


Sarah Avery
Sarah Avery
919-724-5343 Email

DURHAM, N.C. – Most women of child-bearing age who responded to a national survey were unfamiliar with their state’s abortion laws and commonly repeated abortion myths, according to a study led by Duke Health and University of North Carolina researchers.

The findings, appearing online this month 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,” said lead author Jonas Swartz, M.D., medical director of Family Planning in Duke’s Department of Obstetrics & 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 said.

Swartz said that poverty, low levels of education or low health literacy did not appear to be factors affecting knowledge of state abortion laws.

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 said.

In addition to Swartz, study authors include Carly Rowe, Jessica E. Morse, Amy G. Bryant and Gretchen S. Stuart.

The study received support from the Society of Family Planning Research Fund (SFPRF19-04). 

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