This Study Shows a Very Simple Way to Change Someone's Opinion on Abortion

February 10th 2015

Alicia Lutes

When people have face-to-face conversations about abortion access with a woman who's had an abortion, they are more likely to become pro-choice, according to a recent study.

Unlike marriage equality, another hot-button issue, popular opinion on abortion access has been trending downwards in national polls for years now. A discouraging fact for anyone who thinks their medical decisions are theirs and theirs alone. Which is exactly what led UCLA doctoral candidate Michael LaCour to partner with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Together, they formed a research group and investigated whether or not face-to-face doorstep discussions would move the needle one way or the other, like they did in LaCour's previous, similar study on gay marriage.

As it turns out? Folks who've had an in-person conversation on abortion with a woman who has had one changed their opinion to be more favorable on access to safe and affordable abortions. LaCour sent out both male and female canvassers to go door-to-door and speak in person with hundreds of California residents, urging support for abortion rights. And what did he discover? That people, once given a dose of relatable reality on the matter, resulted in "large and persistent changes in policy views about abortion, especially when messages were delivered by female canvassers who disclosed that they have had an abortion."

Initial surveys on abortion access showed a 39 percent support rate amongst voters, but that number increased to an impressive 49.8 percent after the door-to-door conversations. And while all volunteers — male and female alike — changed minds, it was women who had previously had abortions and told voters about their personal experience that resulted in the most lasting impact. Guess that means that empathetic knowledge is the great uniter, huh? In both of LaCour's studies, volunteers were struck with how much voters wanted to talk about these particularly heated issues.

What's more is LaCour's finding that these opinions then became almost infectious, stating in his abstract that "after canvassing concluded, these persuasive effects were subsequently transmitted to housemates, but only in the wake of contact with a woman who had an abortion. This finding was replicated in follow-up experiments."

And after the Supreme Court struck down a law allowing a buffer zone for abortion clinics, "every group saw their abortion views become more conservative -- all except one. Those who had had a conversation about abortion weeks earlier with a woman who disclosed she had an abortion."

So it feels safe to say there's a profound, lasting impression to be made when things get personal.

It's like Sarah Cowan at New York University said in a similarly minded study from November 2014, "When there is silence rather than discussion, individuals cannot influence each other, and attitudes remain stable."