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Republican men are out of touch on the facts of abortion, yet unwilling to overturn Roe: survey

Trump signing an executive order
One executive order Trump signed this week prevents foreign NGO’s that get US funds from providing (or discussing) abortions
Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images

I’ve been studying public opinion on abortion for the past few years. A central finding is that voter support for women’s rights on abortion is steady, if not increasing.

A majority (64 percent) wants abortion legal in all or most cases. Seven in 10 agree with the Roe v. Wade decision. Two-thirds oppose nominating a Supreme Court justice based on anti-abortion beliefs.

This week, however, President Trump and the overwhelmingly male Republican leadership in Congress proposed several pieces of legislation to reduce abortion access and rights.

So I returned to the research, including our 2016 Vox/PerryUndem voter survey, to see if data could shed light on why Republican men may be out of step with public opinion.

We found three things. First, Republican men appear to be divorced from real experiences and facts around abortion.

Republican men underestimate the prevalence of abortion, and overestimate its risks

Seven in 10 male Republican voters say they have never talked with someone about the decision to have an abortion or the experience of having one.

A majority of male Republican voters, 65 percent, underestimate how common abortion is. (The best estimates at the time of the survey were that between 25 percent and 30 percent of women will have an abortion at some point in their lives.)

Republican men also overestimate the medical risks for women of an abortion. Only one in five perceives abortion as “very safe.” More than 70 percent of Republican men incorrectly say that a wisdom tooth extraction is safer than an abortion. In fact, there are twice as many complications associated with wisdom teeth removal as with abortion, and complications for both procedures tend to be minor.

Like voters overall, most male Republican voters do not know what laws are in place around abortion. Large majorities are unaware that some states mandate that doctors give women medically inaccurate information about the risks of abortion (90 percent) or that laws exist mandating that women view ultrasound images (81 percent).

Republican men do not connect the issue with “equality”

Most Republican men appear not to connect reproductive rights with women’s rights or gender equality.

In a comprehensive study PerryUndem released last week, we found that only about a third of Republican men believe that access to affordable birth control (32 percent) or safe and legal abortion (34 percent) affects women’s rights and equality. Republican men have striking views on gender equality in general. Just one in four Republican men say a lack of women in political office affects women’s rights and equality. Interestingly, Republican men are also the most likely to say women have already achieved full equality: 39 percent versus 20 percent of the public overall.

Finally — for all that — at least half of Republican men align more with Democrats on abortion policy than with their representatives in Congress.

Fifty-nine percent of men who identify as Republican — and 54 percent of men who voted for President Trump — oppose nominating a Supreme Court justice based on his or her belief in restricting or eliminating women’s right to abortion. Seven in 10 voters oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, including 51 percent of Republican men and 49 percent of men who voted for President Trump.

Furthermore, 46 percent of Republican men say that President Trump and the new Congress should work to protect women’s right to abortion.

When we asked about views toward abortion access and care in the Vox/PerryUndem survey, we found that more than half of Republican men say the experience should be “supportive” (55 percent); that abortions services should be widely accessible (55 percent); that they should be affordable (56 percent); that women should be able to procure abortions without being subjected to picketers (61 percent); and that they should be provided with medically accurate and unbiased information (93 percent).

This data confirms what other data already shows. Women’s rights around abortion have much more support across the country — even among Republican men — than within the halls of a Republican-led Congress.

Tresa Undem is a partner at the nonpartisan public opinion research firm PerryUndem.

The Big Idea is Vox’s home for smart, often scholarly excursions into the most important issues and ideas in politics, science, and culture — typically written by outside contributors. If you have an idea for a piece, pitch us at

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