Women Have Poorer Health Outcomes in States With Anti-Abortion Laws

On Tuesday, the Center for Reproductive Rights, together with the research organization Ibis Reproductive Health, released a report that revealed, unsurprisingly, that women and children are more likely to experience negative health outcomes in states with higher numbers of anti-abortion laws.

To draw this conclusion, researchers assessed the overall health of women from 2015-2016 and rated states on a scale of 0-24 based on a series of benchmarks—including access to primary care providers, children receiving mental health care, childhood vaccinations and low maternal mortality rates. They found that framing the study in such a clear-cut manner elucidated which states prioritize policies that benefit women and children and which do not.

At the top of the list sits South Carolina, which has mandated 14 abortion restrictions—including limits on insurance coverage for abortion, restrictions on who can perform abortions, time frames within which an abortion can be performed and mandatory counseling on fetal development and pain.

Louisiana, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma also all soared to the top of the study, meeting the mark for each type of abortion restriction delineated by Ibis. Yet many more states have been caught up in the cascade of anti-abortion policy that began in 2010, when abortion opponents in state capitals across the nation were swept into power. Since then, reproductive health policy-making at the state level has focused almost entirely on restricting abortion, resulting in the enactment of more than 300 anti-abortion bills in the past seven years.

Private organizations in the state are doing their part as well: In an egregious obscuration of facts, Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion legal group, claims that the fact that abortions cost more after week 20 “reflects the greater health risks of later abortions and provides an incentive for the abortion industry to support late-term abortion instead of women’s health and safety.” The reality is that abortions this late make up roughly one percent of total abortions and are carried out almost exclusively for serious health reasons, such as fetal anomalies or threats to mothers’ health. As Alyssa Miller, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s director of public affairs for South Carolina told the New York Times, “abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available.”

The immediate, measurable results of these laws and false claims are catastrophic. In 2015, South Carolina’s maternal mortality rate rose nearly 300 percent. That same year, one third of women in the state did not have a dedicated health care provider. These benchmarks—along with teen births, child mortality rates and children with asthma—were all worse than the national average.

Nearly 70 percent of all Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, and a majority support a woman’s right to abortion. As the war on women’s bodily autonomy escalates, this study is a stark reminder that it isn’t just a war for women’s rights—it’s a battle for women’s, and all of our, lives.



Jessica Merino is a former Ms. editorial intern.