The XX Factor

Do Pro-Life States Really Have Fewer Abortions?

Stats sweetheart Nate Silver ran abortion-rate data from the CDC and has found that states with higher numbers of people who identify as pro-life have lower rates of abortion than pro-choice states . But, this finding is somewhat deceptive. As anyone who receives Guttmacher Institute press releases knows, 87 percent of counties do not have abortion providers , and the CDC data does not always count state of residence, only the state where the abortion is performed. Additionally, since CDC abortion data is self-reported by each state, as Silver notes, “Some states, like Florida and Louisiana, do not report their abortion statistics, and in other cases … [data collection] may be subject to various sorts of imperfections, as the reporting of abortion statistics can have some political implications.”

But the Silver stats show something less blatantly obvious than states with no abortion doctors having lower rates of abortion:

The Guttmacher institute data…suggests that abortion providers in pro-life states carry a larger caseload. Abortion clinics in the 15 most pro-life states performed an average of 949 abortions in 2005; those in pro-choice states performed an average of 576 … This may imply that there are either too few providers in pro-life states to meet the demand for abortion (or too many in pro-choice states)-although clearly many women who want an abortion are willing to travel for one.

Silver does not draw any pat conclusions from this research, but ends his article with a difficult and important question. “If it’s a three-hour drive to the nearest clinic, how many women will ultimately wind up forsaking an abortion (and how many will have an illegal abortion instead)?”