politics Society

Things People Love: Being Corrected and Talking About Abortion


Last month, in a victory for… limited government? actual doctors’ medical advice? anti-abortion activists, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the abortion-inducing pill mifepristone should lose FDA approval, twenty-three years after it was first approved. The Supreme Court has since temporarily halted the ruling until the legal battle is resolved, likely by SCOTUS itself in the next two months.


Just like when you’re trying to enjoy a tourist attraction and there’s someone nearby shouting through a megaphone about the imminent apocalypse, Americans are aware of the federal court’s ruling but don’t necessarily agree: 78% have heard about the legal battle, and 50% of all adults support the continued usage of mifepristone (29% oppose and 21% are unsure).


What’s often lost in the broader abortion conversation is a shared understanding of pregnancy milestones and statistics. And if there’s one thing we know we can count on, it’s Americans’ famous ability to understand both statistics and women’s reproductive health. But just to be safe, we asked Americans when they think certain reproductive milestones occur.


Plot showing how Americans' average guesses compare to actual pregnancy and abortion statistics


A big misperception centers around how many abortions take place early in pregnancy. On average, Americans believe 51% of abortions occur in the first trimester; the actual proportion is 93%.*


Americans are also somewhat misinformed about when it is possible to detect a fetal heartbeat: The average guess was 12 weeks into pregnancy; it is actually six weeks. So when a state like Texas bans abortion for pregnancies in which a fetal heartbeat is detected, that effectively bars abortion earlier in pregnancy than most people think, and, not to mention, before many women even know they’re pregnant.


While we can't expect everyone who has an opinion about reproductive rights to be informed about these statistics… actually, maybe we should expect that.


*All “actual answer” statistics compiled using data from the CDC, Pew Research, and the Guttmacher Institute.