Reality Checking the State of Abortion

7951833026_144bc0c001When Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s dangerous abortion clinic was shut down, anti-choice campaigners thought they had found an example to tout when demonizing abortion care.

Anti-abortion activists and politicians have tried to use Gosnell’s “house of horrors” as a representative example and argument for stricter regulations on abortion providers. As Sharona Coutts wrote RH Reality Check (RHRC), about the introduction of anti-choice legislation at the state and federal level:

Their strategy is to make such laws seem necessary by insinuating that abortion providers are, as a group, engaged in unsafe or unscrupulous conduct.

However, thanks to a new investigative report, anti-choice activists don’t have a leg to stand on. Spearheaded by Coutts, RHRC’s director of research and investigations, the “State of Abortion” study exposes as illegitimate Republican cries for stricter federal and state checks on abortion. Thousands of documents compiled into a publicly accessible database detail how abortion care is already heavily regulated across the country, as reported by the health departments and attorneys general of 46 states.

The documents were initially compiled in May at the behest of Congressional Republicans from the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees. They focus on how each state monitors abortion clinics, and how complaints of abortion-related misconduct are handled.

Jodi Jacobson, editor in chief of RHRC, noted that Republicans sought to use the documents as proof of unsafe and under-regulated abortion care nationwide. However, RHRC’s review of the material only provides evidence to the contrary :

State documents reveal that abortion care across the country is not only highly regulated, but overwhelmingly safe. Neither Congress nor state legislatures can provide a shred of evidence to back up their push for further restricting access to safe abortion care.

RHRC submitted public information requests to all 50 states, asking for copies of what had been sent in response to the congressional committees.

While not all states have complied, RHRC received responses from 38 Attorneys General and 32 state health departments. States that have not submitted any response have been marked in the database, and information will continue to be added to the cache as it comes in.

While there are some missing pieces, there are undeniable patterns that have emerged from RHRC’s analysis:

1) Abortion facilities and the services they provide are inspected regularly and rigorously. Most participating states cited few—if any—incidents of an abortion causing harm to a patient. Abortion providers are rarely criminally prosecuted.

2) Most state records call into question claims of ‘born-alive’ fetuses, a popular theme of the anti-choice movement. The vast majority of abortions are performed within the first trimester, many even before nine weeks. Said Coutts,

Since only a small share of all abortions are late second-trimester (after 20 weeks), and since third-trimester abortions are illegal in all but the most exceptional circumstances, it is not surprising that state records show that the myth of “born-alive” fetuses is, indeed, a myth.

With the potential for a Senate debate on a proposed federal 20-week abortion ban, these findings could not have come at a better time. By demonstrating that state monitoring and regulation of abortion care is a stringent process, it will be difficult for Republicans in Congress to argue that federal regulation is needed to fill any regulation gaps left by states.

Image of pro-choice advocates from Flickr user scythril under license from Creative Commons 2.0


Jennifer Simeone is a freelance feminist writer and recent graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently based in Los Angeles but moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find out more by following her on Tumblr or Twitter