To many advocates of abortion rights, covering the cost of an abortion like any other medical procedure is a matter of respecting women. But in surveys, women are no more likely than men to support that policy. The sexes differ on other reproductive policy questions, but not on abortion funding. Consider a poll taken two months ago for the Kaiser Family Foundation. On federal funding of “family planning and birth control for lower-income women,” the gap between men’s and women’s answers was about 10 to 20 percentage points. On funding of Planned Parenthood clinics that provide “birth control, STD testing and treatment, and cancer screenings,” the gap was similar. But on funding clinics that “also provide abortions” or that “also provide referrals for abortions,” the gender gap disappeared. The Harvard poll found the same pattern: Women were more likely than men to support funding of Planned Parenthood, but not more likely to support Medicaid coverage of abortions.
Why would the gender gap on reproductive health care dissolve when the question turns to abortion? Apparently, something about abortion bothers a lot of women in a way that birth control and STD treatments don’t.
It’s also common on the left to hear that opposition to abortion, including opposition to Medicaid coverage of abortions, is driven by hostility to sex or to women’s autonomy. But polls show an enormous gap between support for funding abortions and support for funding contraception. In the PRRI survey, only 46 percent of respondents agreed that “government health insurance programs for low-income women” should “cover abortion.” But when the same question was asked with one substitution—the phrase “cover the cost of birth control” replaced the phrase “cover abortion”—support jumped to 83 percent. Even 75 percent of Republicans endorsed covering birth control.