Almost half of Americans don’t know whether the abortion pill mifepristone is legal, a report released Friday found, a sign that Republican attacks on abortion access are succeeding.
Mifepristone, one of the medications used to induce an abortion, is still legal nationwide, but it has gone through a lot of legal back-and-forth over the last few months. In April, the Supreme Court temporarily halted lower court rulings that would have restricted access to the pill. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on mifepristone soon. If someone hasn’t been following the case closely, it would be understandable if they didn’t know what was going on anymore.
As it turns out, that is exactly the case. A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45 percent of all adults are “unsure” whether medication abortion is available in their state. If people live in a state that restricts or bans abortion, they are less likely to know what options are available to them.
For instance, in the 25 states and Washington, D.C., where abortion is legal, about 60 percent of people know current medication abortion laws. But in the 14 states where all abortion is banned, only one-third of people actually know this. More than half are unsure, and 13 percent believe medication abortion is still legal.
The confusion is the point: If people don’t know whether they can get an abortion or not, then they will be less likely to seek one out of fear of the legal repercussions. This will mean fewer abortions overall, the same result as banning mifepristone altogether. So even if the pill remains available, anti-abortion activists have already won by leaving health care providers and patients scrambling to try to figure out what options, if any, they actually have.
KFF surveyed nearly 1,700 adults between May 9 and 19, shortly after the Supreme Court kept mifepristone legal. The poll also followed a series of bombshell reports that Justice Clarence Thomas secretly accepted lavish gifts for decades from billionaire Republican megadonor and Nazi memorabilia collector Harlan Crow. These were soon followed by reports that Justice Neil Gorsuch sold property to the CEO of a law firm whose lawyers have argued about two dozen cases before the Supreme Court and that Chief Justice John Roberts’s wife was allegedly paid more than $10 million by law firms, at least one of which has argued before the Supreme Court.
The scandals have tanked public opinion of the nation’s highest court. The KFF poll found that 58 percent of Americans disapprove of how the Supreme Court does its job. This matches a poll conducted by NPR, PBS NewsHour, and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in late April that found that 62 percent of Americans say they have not very much confidence or no confidence at all in the Supreme Court. This is the lowest number since the NPR/PBS/Marist poll was first conducted in 2018, when almost twice as many people said they had confidence in the court.
The KFF poll went a step further and found that only 37 percent of Americans trust the court to decide on cases about reproductive and sexual health. Only about half of Americans trust the court to weigh in on cases about science and technology (55 percent), the role of the federal government (53 percent), and the Affordable Care Act (49 percent).
The Supreme Court has become increasingly politicized, from the appointment process to the justices themselves, and people are starting to see it. That politicization chips away at public trust in the institution. It’s no longer clear that the court will uphold people’s rights, as opposed to wielding its almost absolute authority to impose its personal beliefs on the country.