A picture of eroding abortion rights is worth 1,000 words

USA Today uses its trademark charts and graphs to show the future of choice in the U.S. -- and the picture ain't pretty.


Page Rockwell
April 20, 2006 6:45PM (UTC)

This national abortion-rights prediction from USA Today is a few days old, but since we're suckers for a scary infographic, we figured we'd link to it anyway. The story features a U.S. map color-coded to show which states are likely to leap at the chance to restrict abortions in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned, which states are likely to protect choice, and which ones could go either way. The good news is, USAT figures 16 states and Washington, D.C. -- which constitute 37.3 percent of the country's population, or about 103 million people -- are likely to protect choice come what may. The really fricking bad news is that 22 states are likely to "significantly restrict abortion access" -- and those states are home to 147 million, or just shy of half the U.S. population.

USAT evaluated the states using criteria cribbed from the excellent Guttmacher Institute, including whether or not a state has already outlawed abortion (South Dakota, natch, but this category also includes Louisiana and Utah, whose bans have been enjoined and thus haven't taken effect), whether a state is considering passing a ban (which is true for nine states, including Alabama and Ohio), or is considering a "trigger law" that would ban abortion if Roe were overturned (South Dakota and Louisiana, which are really covering their bases on this one, plus Kentucky and Illinois). (Guttmacher further notes (PDF) that 13 states -- including Arkansas and Massachusetts, neither of which makes an exception for the life of the mother -- still have pre-Roe abortion bans as part of their state laws.) USAT also factored in how many other abortion-restricting laws, from requiring parental consent for minors to limiting late-term abortions, the various states have passed. (To keep an eye on pending legislation in the various states, check out NARAL Pro-Choice America's handy state bill tracker.)

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The paper also offers a handy chart that breaks down abortion rates by state. In 2000, the most recent year for which complete data are available, California had the most abortion providers (400) and the highest number of abortions (236,060). At the other end of the spectrum were the Dakotas, which in 2000 had only two providers each, and had yearly totals of 1,350 and 870 abortions respectively. Rounding out the picture are stats on what percentage of each state's pregnancies end in abortion (the highest was D.C., with 37 percent; the lowest, with 6 percent, was Utah) and what percentage of total abortions each state was responsible for. (Despite its high rate, D.C. only represented 0.4 percent of the U.S. total; whereas populous California represented 18 percent.) And here's an interesting factoid: The 16 states (plus D.C.) that USAT judged most likely to protect abortion rights accounted for 48 percent of abortions performed. It's significant that a minority of states are providing nearly half of the country's abortions -- but it's also worth noting that the states that the USAT judged moderately or more likely to restrict access still accounted for more than half of all abortions performed.

Predicting how states are likely to behave in the future is an imprecise effort, as the article acknowledges. My worry about USAT's analysis is that its threshold for determining that a state is likely to preserve abortion rights may be too low. In order to make it into the sweet 16, states had to have passed "seven or fewer of the 11 current restrictions" tracked by the Guttmacher Institute. By contrast, for a state to be considered "likely to enact significant additional restrictions on abortion," it had to have passed "eight or more of the 11 current restrictions." Sure, you have to draw the line somewhere, but the practical difference between seven and eight antiabortion laws isn't enormous. Certainly, USAT considered numerous factors in addition to a state's passage of these 11 abortion restrictions, including the status of pending bans as well as each state governor's leanings. But if you're evaluating whether abortion rights are secure in your state, it's worth remembering that as of now, only six states have laws affirmatively enshrining a woman's right to choose in the event that Roe is overturned: California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Nevada and Washington.


Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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