June 23, 2006

State Bioethics by Jim Fossett:
Abortion in the Fifty States

The most recent issue of Stateline.org, an on-line magazine that covers state government and politics, contains an excellent article on the legal status of abortion across the fifty states. The overwhelming focus on whether the newly constituted Supreme Court will overturn or modify Roe v. Wade doesn’t pay enough attention to the fact that state actions will be more influential in determining womens’ access to abortion than anything the Supreme Court does. Even inside the Roe framework, the accessibility of abortion varies enormously across the states. In larger, more urbanized states; access to abortion providers is better. Fewer than 10 percent of the women in California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey live in a county without an abortion provider. By contrast, 75 percent of the women in smaller rural states such as West Virginia, Mississippi, and Wyoming have to travel to another county. Some states have gone to considerable trouble to make abortions as difficult to get as possible while staying inside the Roe framework. In others, the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy has been held to be constitutionally protected. The point is clear---Changes to Roe v. Wade are only the first step, and maybe not the most important one, in changing access to abortion. What does, or doesn’t, happen in state capitals is likely to have more far wide reaching consequences.
James Fossett, Director of the Bioethics and State Policy program of Rockefeller Institute of Government and AMBI

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