Anti-abortion conservatives think women are thoughtless and irresponsible. Research shows the opposite is true

Before he was murdered by an anti-abortion terrorist in 2009, Kansas physician Dr. George Tiller had a simple but profound motto: Trust women. “I’m a woman-educated physician,” Dr. Tiller explained in an interview for the 2001 documentary “Voices of Choice.” “Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams and potential for the rest of their lives. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.”

Monday marks the 45th anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade, in which the Supreme Court ruled that women have a right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. In the four and a half decades since, the religious right, aided by the Republican Party, has tried to strip that right away. The ostensible reason for anti-abortion activism is the oft-repeated belief that “abortion is murder.” However, most anti-abortion activists also take a dim view of feminism, gay rights and comprehensive sex education, while also voting for politicians who reject actual life-affirming policies, such as universal health care or a robust social safety net.

In reality, the struggle over abortion goes back to Dr. Tiller’s slogan. The question is whether or not women can be trusted to make decisions for themselves like adults, or whether they should be relegated to second-class status, stripped of the right to bodily autonomy. Recent research, published over the past month, highlights how central this question is to the abortion debate and demonstrates that despite widespread skepticism about women’s basic decision-making capacity on the right, women are highly competent when it comes to knowing what they need and quite capable of taking control of their lives — if they are allowed to.

“The polling data that exists on abortion is so one-dimensional,” Tresa Undem, a researcher for the polling firm PerryUndem, told Salon. So Undem conducted focus groups and polling meant to go deeper, and find out what people really think about women who get abortions. What she found out was that, among those who oppose abortion, there’s a widespread belief the women who have abortions are unintelligent, irresponsible and thoughtless.

Anti-abortion respondents also seemed to believe that men understood abortion better than women. When asked whether men whose partner was having an abortion understood that it was ending a potential life, 51 percent of abortion opponents said yes. But when asked if women getting abortions understood the procedure, only 36 percent of anti-choicers agreed that a woman knows what she is doing. Abortion foes were also more likely to say they were more comfortable when women were housewives instead of seeking careers.

“I feel like a lot of people that get abortions are younger, like teenagers, and they don’t fully understand what is happening,” said one woman in a focus group of anti-abortion women.

Another suggested abortion was for “women that want to … like, be a big dog somewhere in some company, and they don’t want anything to inconvenience their path.”

The reality, however, is much different. Women who get abortions are stereotyped as young and ignorant, but research repeatedly shows that most women who get abortions are mothers already, and therefore have a pretty good handle on what pregnancy and parenting is about. New research from the University of California, San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health digs even deeper into the question and finds that women who get abortions have a good understanding of their own lives and know what the consequences will be if they don’t get the abortions they seek.

Researchers went into abortion clinics and surveyed patients, some of whom got the abortions and some of whom were turned away because they were past the gestational limit. When asked why they wanted an abortion, as researcher Diana Greene Foster explained it to Salon, their “most common reason was not being able to afford to have a child or raise a child,” though that was often coupled with other concerns.

“What women feared will come true does come true,” Foster continued. Women who get abortions “stay on track to have improvements in their life,” but women who don’t are “derailed from that.” The result is that women who were denied abortions were three times as likely to be unemployed six months later, and four times as likely to be living below the federal poverty line.

Women are good judges of their own lives, this data shows, and also of the whether it’s the right time for them to have a baby. Another interesting study, this one from Ibis Reproductive Health, also highlights both how capable women are and how determined when it comes to abortion. The study looked at whether women in Peru, a nation that has outlawed most abortions, Peru, can navigate a system that throws a bunch of needless obstacles in their way. What they discovered was that, when given adequate access to information, women do pretty well by themselves.

“Abortion is common in Peru despite the fact that clinic access is extremely limited,” explained researcher Sarah Baum. “Many women in Peru rely on self-induced abortion because clinic access to safe abortion is just so limited.”

The study looked at a clinic that had employed a harm reduction model, where women seeking abortion were able to get information from clinic workers on how to take misoprostol, a drug that can induce miscarriage but is also widely available for other purposes. What the study found was that, even though women couldn’t get an abortion from the clinic, nine out of 10 women who opted to take the drug used the information they were given to end their pregnancies completely.

Having access to a trusted clinic also meant there were high rates of follow-up, with 80 percent of the women who got abortions speaking with a clinic worker either on the phone or in person. Post-abortion contraception use was higher for women who got follow-up care. Once again, women show they can handle themselves just fine if they are given the opportunities and information necessary.

At this year’s “March for Life,” Donald Trump stood in front of a crowd of religious conservatives organized around the idea that women cannot be trusted to manage their own lives and need the law to make intimate decisions about sex and child-bearing for them. The irony couldn’t be more blatant, as the week’s news had been dominated by a story of Trump allegedly sleeping with a porn actress soon after his third wife gave birth, and then paying the woman off during the campaign to keep her quiet. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans were holding health care funding for 9 million children — actual children, not hypothetical ones — hostage in an effort to bully Democrats into voting for a funding bill that the Republican leadership couldn’t get passed despite commanding a majority. on its own.

This is the crowd that wants to judge women who have abortions for their supposed immorality and irresponsibility, and argues they can’t be trusted to make important life decisions on their own.