The Effects of State Abortion Policies on States' Abortion Rates

Date01 December 1999
Published date01 December 1999
Subject MatterGeneral Interest
43Winter 1999
State an d Local Government Review
Vol. 31, No. 1 (Winter 1999): 43-52
FOLLOWING THE ROE decision, anti-
abortion act ivists shifted energy and
resources to state legislatures, and
the subsequent debate over issues such as pa-
rental involvement and Medicaid funding mo-
bilized pro-choice activists. The stakes in this
struggle increased rec ently when the Supreme
Court in the We b st e r (1989) and Casey (1992)
decisions permitted states to enforce more
aborti on restrictions.1 As a res ult o f the se d e-
cisions, the fate of abortion policy now ap-
pears to be significantly more in the hands of
state politicians. These developments high-
light the importance of understanding the
role of stat e governments in the policymaking
process that influences a woman’s ability to
obtain an abortio n.
In 1988 (prior to the We bs t e r decision)
the Supreme Court permitted state govern-
ments to regulate access to abor tion only by
increasing the costs of obtaining an abortion
for two subgroups of women
those eligible
for Medica id and minor, unmarried women.
The court has held that a state may require
an unmarried minor who seeks an abortion
to notify or obtain the consent of one or both
of her par ents, provided that if she does not
wish to do so, she must also be able to ob-
tain permission from a judge.2 In 1980, the
Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. McRae that
The Effects of State Abortion Policies
on States’ Abortion Rates
Anita Pritchard and Sharon Kay Parsons
the federal and state governments could ex-
clude coverage of abortions from Medicaid.
As a consequence of these decisions, state
abortio n policies necessar ily involve the issue
of distr ibution of costs among women seek-
ing abortions.
However, the radical nature of state abor-
tion politics suggests that the issue at stake
is not only the fairness of imposing higher
costs on some groups of women but whether
or not a woman may obtain an abortion in
her state of residence. Certainly the partici-
pants in the antiabortion movement indicate
that their intention is to reduce the number
of abor tions. Thus, the public debate creates
the impression that state legislatures are im-
portant sites of abortion policymaking. If
this is the case, the strategy of imposing higher
costs on some groups of women should suc-
ceed in regulating access to abortion, and
states with more restrictive regulations should
have lower abortion rates than states with less
restrictive laws. The following analysis evalu-
ates this expectation by examining whether
or not the two major state abortion policies
in effect in 1988
state restrictions on Medi-
caid financing of abortion and state require-
ments for parental consent/notification for
explain var iation in state abor tion

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