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ALEXANDRIA, VA – MAY 09: Abortion-rights advocates stage a protest outside the house of Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito in the Fort Hunt neighborhood on Monday, May 9, 2022 in Alexandria, VA. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Who abortion bans hurt

Who abortion bans hurt

ALEXANDRIA, VA – MAY 09: Abortion-rights advocates stage a protest outside the house of Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito in the Fort Hunt neighborhood on Monday, May 9, 2022 in Alexandria, VA. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The US states most likely to ban abortion if Roe v Wade is overturned are those where it’s most needed

If Roe v Wade is overturned, abortion will likely be restricted in 26 US states by summer. 

These states are home to about 48 per cent of the US population – but also to majorities in those groups of women most likely to have an abortion, including young mothers, Black women, and women living below the poverty line.

Tortoise analysis of US Census Bureau data shows that 

  • almost 57 per cent of Black women of reproductive age and over half of white women of reproductive age live in states likely to ban abortion if the US Supreme Court approves a leaked draft opinion by Judge Samuel Alito, and Roe falls;
  • the proportion of Black girls aged 15-19 who live in these states is even higher, meaning the number denied access to abortion is likely to grow; and
  • more than half of women of reproductive age who already have children in America live in these states (and most women who have abortions in the US are already mothers).

Abortion rights activists have long argued that overturning Roe is socially regressive, and the data proves it. “Unintended pregnancy and abortion correlate with only almost every socio-economic disparity you can think of,” says David Slusky, associate professor of economics at the University of Kansas, who joined 153 other labour and market experts in signing a 73-page amicus brief for the Supreme Court last year arguing Roe should be upheld.

The detail. Although overall abortion rates have consistently declined for decades, it’s estimated a quarter of American women will have an abortion by the time they are 45.

Most American abortion patients – almost 60 per cent – are in their 20s, and the share of women and girls who live in states that are likely to ban abortion gets larger as they get younger. 

For instance, only 43 per cent of women in their 40s who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native live in a likely ban state, but almost half of Native girls 15-to-19 do. Fifty-five per cent of Black women in their 40s live in ban states, but over 60 per cent of 15-to-19-year old Black girls do. 

So not only are many of the women who will imminently need an abortion living in these states, but that number is likely to increase. 

“The effects are likely to get bigger over time as the number of people who are affected – and put on completely different life paths as a result – will grow,” says Jason Lindo, an economics professor at Texas A&M University and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

In addition to being in their 20s, a majority of women who get abortions in the United States are already mothers. Just over half of all mothers live in ban states. However, when broken down by age, it’s clear that being young increases the likelihood a mother lives in one, with 60 per cent of mothers under 30 living in a state poised to ban abortion in the coming months.

In fact, across all groups, being a mother and being a young mother are both factors that correlate with living in states likely to ban abortion. So while 54 per cent of poor women of reproductive age live in ban states, almost 56 per cent of poor mothers and 61 per cent of poor mothers under 30 do.

So what happens when the women in these states are denied an abortion? 

The economy. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee that overturning Roe “would have very damaging effects on the economy” and would “set women back decades”. There is no shortage of research to support her view.

  • A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research which compared outcomes of those who were denied and those who had an abortion found “a large increase in financial distress that is sustained for several years”. 
  • Researchers in Texas, which in September last year instituted a six-week abortion ban, found more than half the women they surveyed in 2018 reported serious financial hardships. One in seven had to skip buying groceries to pay for an abortion. Eight per cent skipped or delayed a rent payment and risked getting evicted. 
  • Analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in 2021 found abortion restrictions cost the US about $105 billion annually because of reduced earnings, increased job turnover and time off work. 

“It is extremely hard to quantify the overall economic effects because they are likely to be so extensive and far-reaching,” Lindo says. But the research is “consistent with common sense.”

“Anyone who has kids or has seriously considered it will quickly realise how costly it is, both in terms of time – and money.” 

Health. The state of maternal healthcare in the US with Roe is already worse than in other developed countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control 700 women die every year because of pregnancy-related complications and 60 per cent of these deaths are preventable. 

For Black women, that rate is nearly three times higher. It’s among the worst disparities in women’s health. A Black woman is 22 per cent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 per cent more likely to die from cervical cancer, and 243 per cent more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth complications. 

Complications. One of the rallying cries for repealing the 8th amendment that banned abortion in Ireland was the death of Savita Halappanavar. At 31, she died from sepsis contracted from having a miscarriage after being denied an abortion. A 30 year-old in Poland, where abortion bans were reintroduced last year, also died of sepsis as doctors waited for her unborn baby’s heart to stop beating before treating her. 

In the US, healthcare professionals already fear the criminalisation of their work. The University of Texas interviewed women who travelled out of state for an abortion in light of the state ban and found that women with existing health risks, fetal anomalies, or dangerous pregnancy complications reported that their healthcare providers were “reluctant to offer information about out-of-state options for abortion care”. 

Last year, a study of maternal mortality rates found that although it was broadly similar across the country in 1995, states that restricted abortion access had significantly higher rates by 2017. 

What next? Yesterday, Senate Democrats’ attempt to pass a bill that would protect the right to abortion at the federal level was thwarted as expected, voted down even by pro-choice Republicans. 

Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters the vote “clearly suggests that the Senate is not where the majority of Americans are on this issue”. Polling indicates 69 per cent of Americans don’t want Roe v Wade overturned. 

Today the nine Supreme Court justices, a majority of whom are conservative, will privately meet for the first time since the opinion leak. They will do so with an eight-foot high black metal fence erected outside the court in light of protests. 

This is a section from today’s Sensemaker newsletter – our daily roundup of the news that matters. Sign up to receive it every morning at 11am here.