Visualization by Lewis Lehe; story by Matthew Green
On Thursday, the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision to legalize abortion nationwide, House Republicans had intended to vote on a proposal banning abortions at the 20-week post-conception period. But rather than approving the so-called “fetal pain” measure, the House swapped it for a watered down bill that would weaken insurance coverage for the procedure. It was a last minute switch was made after a small group of mostly female Republican lawmakers came out strongly opposing the more restrictive measure.
All of which begs the question: what are current abortion laws?
Easier asked than answered.
Although Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision, established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, it did little to prevent individual states from enacting their own laws tightening restrictions on the procedure. So while all 50 states must permit some form of abortion, per the court’s ruling, many conservative states have enacted restrictions to making the procedure far more difficult.
In recent years, anti-abortion campaigns have increasingly geared their efforts towards passing restrictive abortion laws in individual states, rather than at the federal level. In 2013 alone, state legislatures enacted 70 laws restricting abortion access, ranging from bans on abortions at 20 weeks post-conception to limitations on insurance coverage for the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice advocacy group that tracks state laws. In fact, more abortions restrictions were enacted from 2011 to 2013 than in the entire previous decade.
The map below, created by designer Lewis Lehe, shows abortion rates by state as well as the dizzying patchwork of various state abortion restrictions (note that these are just some of the many state restrictions in place). Like the lattice-work of laws, the map is a bit complicated. Select a category tab on the right, and then mouse over each state to see its specific restrictions .The graph below the map shows te number of abortions in each state per 1,000 women (aged 15 – 44), To compare different states, click on one state and then mouse over (but don’t click) another. Hit the “Compare US Total” button to show the selected state against the national rate.
Note that the map was last updated in 2014. The ‘viability’ of a fetus is generally considered to start at 24 weeks. Normal pregnancies run about 40 weeks. Additionally, while some states have both parental notification and parental consent laws, the map shows only the strictest law.
(article continues below visualization)
Public opinion on the issue remains sharply divided. In a 2013 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 70 percent of respondents said they would not want the Supreme Court to completely overturn Roe v. Wade, as opposed to 24 percent who did. But 58 percent of respondents favored imposing some limits on abortion procedures.
Despite the controversy surrounding the procedure, abortion is still a relatively common experience for a significant number of American women, although the rate has decreased fairly steadily since its peak in 1980, when there were more than 29 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. In 2011, there were fewer than 17 abortions for every 1,000 women, according to a recent Guttmacher study. That’s the lowest it’s been since 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in all 50 states.
While the study doesn’t specifically investigate reasons for the decline, its authors note that the trend predates the recent wave in new state abortion restrictions. They largely attribute the drop to an uptick in the use of new, long-acting contraceptive methods that have significantly reduced the frequency of unwanted pregnancies.