A large number of Americans morally opposed to
A sizable minority of Americans morally opposed to abortion would nonetheless offer help to a friend or close family member who seeks one, according to a new analysis of public opinion data and in-depth interviews. Notably, these views are similar to those of Americans who do not view abortion as immoral or who are ambivalent about it.
“Many wish or have helped a close friend or family member to have a legal abortion, including those who morally oppose it,” says Sarah Cowan, professor of sociology at New York University and lead author of the article, which appears in the journal Scientists progress. “At first glance, these people may appear to be hypocrites. They are not. They are at a moral crossroads, driven by their opposition to abortion and their propensity to support those they care about.
The release of the study, drawn from surveys and interviews conducted in 2018 and 2019, comes after a Texas law was passed that allows individuals in the United States to sue anyone in the state. who the plaintiffs claim “aiding or abetting” any abortion performed or induced six weeks into the pregnancy.
Study researchers, who also included Tricia Bruce and Bridget Ritz at the University of Notre Dame, Brea Perry and Elizabeth Anderson at Indiana University, and Stuart Perrett at NYU, also warn that the types the assistance Americans are prepared to provide varies.
“Americans are more willing to provide emotional support or help with abortion logistics from a close friend or family member than they are to help fund the procedure or its related costs. “, write the authors. “This distinction may reflect the social meaning of money, according to which spending money is a means of adopting one’s values. Refusing to contribute directly to the procedure may be a strategy that people morally opposed to abortion use to mitigate their conflicting values, putting an acceptable distance between their help and the abortion itself.
They developed a term to capture the willingness to provide help when it conflicts with personal values: discordant benevolence.
More generally, the question of what we do when a request for help from friends or family members invokes conflicting values is a common question, whether it’s helping a friend cheat at examination or to cover up the misbehavior of a sibling.
In the Scientists progress study, the team sought to better understand how we navigate our desire to help others when it may conflict with our values. They focused on abortion because of Americans’ strong views on the issue, because it’s a common procedure, and because its financial and logistical demands typically require the help of loved ones.
To do this, the researchers looked at both data from the 2018 General Social Survey (GSS), which measures public opinion on a range of concerns, and 74 of 217 in-depth interviews from the National Survey of attitudes towards abortion.
The GSS data showed the following:
- Overall, 88% of Americans said they would provide emotional support and 72% would help with arrangements, such as a commute or childcare, while more than half would help pay for incidentals and about a quarter would help pay for the abortion itself.
- Among those morally opposed to abortion, 76% said they would offer emotional support, compared with 96% of those who were not morally opposed or said their opinion depends on the circumstances.
- However, there were much larger differences among other forms of support. Only 6% of people who are morally opposed would help a friend or relative pay for the procedure, compared to 54% who are not morally opposed.
- Smaller distinctions were found among attitudes about arranging for an abortion (eg, driving to a clinic). More than 40% of morally opposed people said they would help a close friend or relative in this case, compared to almost 80% who have an “it depends” opinion and 91% who are not morally opposed.
The interviews, conducted in 2019 across different parts of the United States, show how Americans who engage in discordant benevolence make sense of it for themselves. Three logics dominate: first, the idea that friends or family members deserve to be helped despite imperfections; second, that friends and family are an exception precisely because they are friends/family; and third, that friends or family members make independent moral decisions. The three logics – which the researchers call “compassion”, “exemption” and “discretion” respectively – facilitate discordant benevolence.
“When it comes to abortion,” says co-author Bruce, “higher levels of help amplify feelings of inner conflict for Americans who morally oppose it. We found that many would still help their friends and their families, but moderate how much and why.
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