The future of abortion in America hinges on the outcome of Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions nationwide. As the landmark decision turns 40, states are passing legislation that would severely limit or even lead to a ban on abortions. With an increasingly conservative Supreme Court under President Trump’s administration, we can expect these laws to be enforced and for Roe v. Wade to eventually be overturned in the coming years.
If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, there would not be an national legalization of abortion. Abortion would remain legal in individual states. However, a vast majority of the country’s population lives in states that have outlawed abortions.
A new Guttmacher Institute report provides data on how legal access to abortion has declined since Roe was decided.
The number of abortions declined by 22% between 1990 and 2014, according to this report. In the same period, the number of women living in states that had passed a ban on abortion increased by an astounding 123%:
While the overall number of abortions per year fell between 1990 and 2014, this decline did not occur evenly across all states. The sharpest decline was in states where many women lived:
In 28 states, at least half of all women lived in areas where abortions were illegal in 1990. By 2014, only four of these states still had a significant fraction of their population living in such an area.
Furthermore, abortion rates declined in every state except North Dakota and Wyoming:
The steepest decline in the abortion rate was seen in Mississippi, which has banned abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Yet the rate has fallen by 75% since 1990:
South Dakota has imposed a 72-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions. In the state, fewer than 1% of women had abortions in 2014, down from 12% in 1990:
Finally, the report compares the abortion rates of women living in states that did and did not ban abortions. In 2014, these rates were 160 per 1,000 women in states where abortion was mostly banned and 19 per 1,000 where it was broadly legal:
Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. In most states today, however, it is only guaranteed if you can afford one.
The Family Planning Act of 1970 required virtually all states to provide funding for women’s abortions. In 1996, this requirement was extended to all insurance plans by the federal government with the passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The Hyde Amendment prohibits using federal Medicaid funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of a woman’s life. It has been attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976. Federal funding for Planned Parenthood has been prohibited since 1976, and the Hyde Amendment has been attached to annual appropriations bills with the exception of 2001.
In addition to cutting off access to abortion, these restrictions also have a disproportionate impact on women of color. For example, in Mississippi, just 11% of white women and 2% of black women live in a state where abortion is completely banned.
Even in states where abortion is legal, many women cannot afford it. A 2017 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that waiting periods imposed on women seeking abortions often result in delays. Furthermore, the report also found that waiting period requirements are 66% more likely to force a woman to delay her abortion than a state without such restrictions.
The health consequences of pregnancy and childbirth are well-documented and universally known.
Many women today are unable to afford an abortion even in states where they remain legal. In the next 40 years, more and more states will follow Mississippi’s example and prohibit abortion.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the right to a safe and legal abortion would be stripped away from millions of Americans. While the future seems bleak, there is evidence that support for reproductive rights is growing among millennials.
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