May 3, 2013 ( – Pro-life demonstrators who work outside abortion facilities and speak to women have an emotional impact on women who have not yet made up their minds to abort, a study has found.

A group of researchers at the strongly pro-abortion Bixby Center for Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, interviewed 956 women seeking abortion between 2008 and 2010 at 30 US abortion facilities, asking them whether they had seen pro-life demonstrators and whether or how much they had been “upset” by them.


“One of the strongest predictors of being upset by protesters,” the study concluded, “is whether the woman had had difficulty deciding to have an abortion. Women who had more difficulty deciding were more likely to find the protesters upsetting.”

The study notes that there has been a significant increase in the number of protests outside abortion facilities in the US over the last ten years. “State-level analyses suggest that abortion protests have an effect on both the supply and demand for abortion services”. But little concrete research has been done directly on the effect of such demonstrations on the individual women and their decisions.

In Canada and the US there are laws that restrict pro-life demonstrations outside abortion facilities, called “bubble-zone” laws in Canada. In arguments over such laws, the study noted, “there is an implicit, but untested, assumption that abortion protesters negatively affect women’s experience of abortion”.

The study’s findings did not uphold this conclusion, however. Of 956 women interviewed who were seeking abortion between 2008 and 2010 at 30 US abortion facilities, 46 per cent saw protesters; of those, 25 per cent reported being a little upset, 9 per cent reported being “quite a bit” upset and 7 per cent were “extremely upset”. There was no reported association between seeing or being stopped by pro-life demonstrators and “negative feelings” about the abortion after the fact.

The women who said they were having the most difficulty making up their minds also reported being the most “upset” by the presence of pro-life demonstrators. 19 per cent who were having difficulty with the abortion decision reported being “quite a bit” or “extremely” upset as opposed to 11 per cent who had firmly made up their minds. More of the “quite a bit” and “extremely” upset group also reported as having been stopped and spoken to personally by demonstrators compared to those who only saw them.


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