Debunking Anti-Abortion Politicians’ Claims of “Protecting Women’s Health”

07.14.2020

Primary Content

When anti-abortion state lawmakers push through laws restricting access to abortion, they often claim their aim is to protect the health and well-being of women, their pregnancies, and their children. But do those claims stand up?

According to Evaluating Priorities, a new online tool developed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health, they do not. The analysis indicates that U.S. states with more anti-abortion laws and policies tend to have fewer policies supportive of families' overall health and well-being.

Since 2011, anti-abortion politicians have enacted more than 450 state laws restricting access to abortion care. Some of those laws are blocked or have been overruled by courts—as in the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision throwing out a Louisiana TRAP law in June Medical Services v. Russo. However, these rulings will not stop politicians from enacting more laws that restrict abortion access.

In 2019 alone, nearly 50 state laws restricting abortion were enacted. For example, North Dakota enacted a mandatory biased counseling law forcing doctors to tell patients that it may be possible to “reverse” a medication abortion—though, as a court found when blocking the law, these harmful laws actually “mandat[e] unproven treatments and requir[e] physicians to provide patients with misleading and inaccurate information.” Another example: Under the guise of protecting women’s mental health, Arkansas enacted one of the strictest waiting period laws in the country, requiring patients to wait 72 hours before having an abortion.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some legislators have continued to prioritize restrictions on abortion care over proactive laws that would support women, children, and families struggling to survive under the stress of a pandemic. For instance, during the pandemic, Mississippi enacted a law banning abortion based on a pregnant person’s reason for seeking care. Supporters of the law falsely claim that the legislation protects communities of color, women and girls, and people with disabilities, despite a lack of adequate state policies and resources to support the health and well-being of these populations. In reality, “reason bans” question patients’ decision-making, undermine the patient-provider relationship, and create barriers to open communication.

While these and similar restrictions succeed in impeding abortion access, there is no evidence they improve health and well-being.

Evaluating Priorities challenges the claims of politicians that they are prioritizing the health of their communities by showing that, on average, the more abortion restrictions a state has enacted, the fewer evidence-based, supportive health policies for women, children, and families exist in the state.

In this analysis, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Missouri have the highest number of abortion restrictions, 18 of 18, but have 10 or fewer supportive policies out of a possible 25. Vermont ranks as the state best demonstrating priorities supportive of women, children and families, with 20 supportive policies and no abortion restrictions. Visitors to the Evaluating Priorities website can access state-by-state findings to see how their state's health priorities compare with those elsewhere in the country.

Users can also:

  • View a nationwide comparison chart showing all 50 states plus Washington, D.C.
  • Use an interactive map to see at a glance how each state scores.
  • Click on any state to see a list showing the number of restrictions compared to the number of supportive measures that have been enacted there.

Methodology

The analysis includes 18 different restrictions that target when, where, and how abortion can be provided and covered, and looks at how many of these restrictions each state has put in place. It also includes 25 supportive policies and looks at how many of these exist in each state. These are measures that support pregnant women; promote children's and adolescents' health, education, and safety; and support family financial health.

The analysis found that, on average, the more abortion restrictions a state has enacted, the fewer supportive policies it tends to have.

Conclusion

The analysis in Evaluating Priorities challenges the claims of politicians who have passed abortion restrictions under the guise of protecting women's, children's, and families' health and safety. The low number of supportive policies in states with a high number of abortion restrictions indicates that policymakers who support abortion restrictions have not been prioritizing the health of women and children.

Where does your state stand? Visit the Evaluating Priorities site to find out.