Study Finds No Evidence That Abortion Restrictions Protect Women's Health

A pair of pro-choice groups say states with the most restrictive laws on abortion, like Arizona, have generally poorer health conditions and less supportive policies for women and children.

Abortion restrictions in Arizona and in state legislatures across the country are often billed as measures to protect the health and well-being of women and children, but this study from the the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health attempts to show that these states don't actually treat the well-being of women and children as a priority.

"Folks who are following this closely are aware of the fact that these are bogus health and safety laws," says Nancy Northup, the president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "But we need to make that knowledge much more widespread to reach folks that may not be looking at this every day and tracking it."

See also: -Arizona Still Leading the Way in New Laws Restricting Abortion

The correlations are there in the report -- first, the authors ranked the states by most abortion restrictions (Arizona tied for the second-most, with 13), and the states were then compared with general indicators of well-being, measures of women's health, measures of children's health, social determinants of health, and policies deemed supportive of women's and children's well-being.

For example, the measures of children's health included the child mortality rate in the states, the share of children receiving medical and dental care, the share of children receiving mental health care if needed, vaccination levels, cases of child maltreatment, breastfeeding rates, infant mortality rates, childhood obesity levels, the percentage of children who live with a smoker, the percentage of children with health insurance, levels of teen birth rates, teen alcohol and drug use, and more -- not exactly cherry-picked stats. (All of the data sources are outlined in the report.)

In each comparison, the states with fewer abortion restrictions had generally better health outcomes. Take a look at the charts:

Notice that Arizona fits the trend by all five of these measures, and goes toward what the Center for Reproductive Rights is saying -- protecting women and children isn't the priority, the priority is an anti-abortion ideology.

"We continue to fight this in the courts, and fighting this along lines of whether these are legitimate government health and safety regulations," Northrop says. "So that battle, I would expect, is going all the way to the Supreme Court, and it's important that there be broader public education and understanding that these restrictive laws that we've seen over the past several years are not about women's health and safety -- that they are a pretext to shut down clinics."

This argument has played out at the Arizona Legislature in recent months, during the passage of a bill that allows the state health department to perform unannounced searches of abortion clinics without a warrant.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Republican Representative Debbie Lesko, insisted that it was just an effort to hold abortion clinics to the same standard as every other type of medical facility in the state, as a sort of safety precaution. Democrats argued that it was just another way of clamping down on abortion, without any legitimate concerns from Republicans as to why this sort of regulation was needed.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has fought new abortion regulations in Arizona, including a lawsuit over a new law that drastically changes how medicated abortions can be administered in the state.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley