With the growing emphasis on women’s personal experiences in pregnancy decisions, some advocates have begun calling 2014 “the year of abortion history.” It’s easy to see why. Reproductive rights activists have recently launched new organizations, held events on college campuses, and hosted the first-ever livestreamed abortion talk — all in an effort to give women more opportunities to share their stories. with the world.
It allows women who have had abortions to connect in new ways. But there is also a political “theory of change” behind this model: if more people hear about the individual life circumstances of women that led them to terminate a pregnancy, perhaps this will translate into more great public support for legal abortion.
And now, preliminary results from a research project on canvassing provide concrete evidence to support this theory. According to a team of researchers led by UCLA doctoral candidate Michael LaCour, when abortion opponents have a face-to-face conversation with a woman who has chosen to end a pregnancy, they are more likely to change their minds. opinion as to whether the procedure should be legal.
LaCour and his team are pioneers in the field of public opinion research. They designed several longitudinal studies to examine the impact door-to-door can have on people’s attitudes to “hot” social issues.
Earlier this month, they released the groundbreaking results of an experiment that involved training gay and straight volunteers to speak to conservative voters about LGBT equality. They found that talking with a gay canvasser for about 20 minutes helped push conservative attitudes in a more progressive direction — a shift that was even evident nine months after that conversation. The researchers are currently teaming up with Planned Parenthood to conduct a similar study of Americans’ attitudes toward abortion, using both volunteers who have personal experiences with abortion and volunteers who do not.
So far, the abortion study yields similar results to the LGBT study. The researchers found that canvassers were able to increase public support for legal abortion by 10%. In initial polls, about 39% of voters said they supported legal access to abortion; then, after talking to the volunteers who knocked on their door, this support rose to almost 50%.
“Although the results of the second study are still preliminary, so far – six months later – they have held,” reports US News & World Report. “While all of the volunteers changed their minds, the women who had previously had an abortion and chose to tell voters about their experiences had the most lasting impact.”
The researchers were able to measure this impact in different ways. For one, they found a ripple effect among people who heard a woman’s personal abortion story. They were more likely to tell other members of their household about the conversation they had with canvassers. On her website, LaCour writes that the persuasive effect of listening to a woman talk about her own abortion experience was “subsequently passed on to housemates.”
Additionally, there is evidence that personal abortion stories have dampened the impact of national abortion-related news. After the Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’ buffer zone around abortion clinics, the event reinforced the anti-abortion attitudes of most study participants –except among voters who had recently spoken with a woman who revealed she had an abortion. “This finding suggests that doorstep discussion affected how people subsequently received and interpreted the news,” LaCour concludes.
Even without the definitive data in this area, many women who decide to share their personal abortion stories intuitively hope for this kind of outcome. According to qualitative interviews conducted by Sea Change, a group that works with people who have traditionally stigmatized health experiences, about a third of participants chose to talk about their abortion as a “political act.”
“We want to put women, our stories and our families back at the center of the political debate on abortion,” Deb Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, the group that led a speech on abortion in online last month. “It’s about the lives of real people driving politics, as opposed to politics driving our lives.”
Until then, canvassers will continue to knock on doors. Women’s health advocates are considering expanding the strategy to other states where reproductive rights have recently come under attack, such as Ohio, and they’re optimistic about its implications.
“I was surprised that the average voter wanted to talk about it on a Saturday,” Celinda Vazquez, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and one of the people who accompanied the team, told the United States. LaCour door-to-door volunteers. News. But she said people were quite receptive to having conversations about abortion. And she estimated that “minds had changed” in about eight of the ten households she visited.