Survey Finds That State Abortion Bans Are Still Leaving Women Unclear On Their Rights

When Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer, Americans lost their constitutional right to have an abortion, thus creating life-threatening situations for women, in some cases forcing women and girls to give birth against their wishes and infringing on the right to bodily autonomy — which has far-reaching effects for everybody in the country. 

Now, states are creating disparate laws of their own volition. The Center for Reproductive Rights says that abortion is protected in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands. It is highly limited or banned in 26 states and three territories. Such laws, however, are in flux, often being regularly tweaked to exact further limitations.

A slew of categorized laws creates a network of barriers that significantly curb or prohibit abortion. Method bans, for example, prohibit specific abortion procedures, such as dilation and extraction, and reason bans prohibit abortion for certain reasons and not others. Further laws criminalize self-managed abortions: abortions that do not take place in a hospital or healthcare setting but instead occur in one's own home, for example. Abortion access is constrained to such an extent that, for some, the sole option is to leave the state. And traveling out of state, even for abortion medications, can be risky.  

With such complex laws, often full of arbitrary provisions and varying significantly from state to state, some are confused about the status of abortion where they live, according to a new poll.

Key takeaways from the poll

Kaiser Family Foundation poll surveyed 1,234 adults in late January about what they understood in regard to their abortion rights. Significantly, 73% of respondents were unaware that the FDA would allow certified pharmacies to offer the abortion medication mifepristone to patients with a prescription, where previously they could not. 

Per the poll, 47% of adults surveyed who live in a state where abortion is banned are "unsure" if medication abortion — abortion completed with pills and not a medical procedure — is legal. About 13% of that population incorrectly believe abortion medication is legal in their state, and just 40% of respondents know that medication abortion is outlawed in their state. In states where abortion is not completely prohibited, 44% of adults are "unsure" whether medication abortion about is legal, while another 44% are aware that it is. A small, but not insignificant, 10% of this population incorrectly believes that medication abortion is illegal. 

When it comes to obtaining a prescription for medication abortion, confusion continues to abound. Where abortion is legal, 46% of women between the age of 18 and 49 are "unsure" if a prescription is required, while 44% of the same demographic believe one is, and ten percent believe it is not. The survey also reflected confusion about the function of an emergency contraceptive pill, where only 27% of respondents know that it cannot end an early-stage pregnancy. Not only is state regulation of abortion services consistently being modified now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, but this KFF survey shows that the target population is likely ill-informed about the status of these laws in their area.