In states where abortion is banned, children and families face an uphill battle

Some advocates of abortion bans and restrictions say they are concerned about “supporting not just life” but what they call a “quality of life livable,” and said they want to promote laws and policies that help families. For example, three Brigham Young University authors have noted that the overthrow of Roe v. Wade represents a “real opportunity for pro-lifers to work with people of different political persuasions to achieve a more just and compassionate world. This world would not only be pro-life, but also pro-child, pro-parent and pro-family.”

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah is one of three Senate Republicans who sponsored a bill called the Family Security Act, dubbed the “Family, Life, and Marriage Plan,” which would provide a monthly cash benefit beginning with pregnancy through 17

But so far these are minority voices in the anti-abortion movement.

As a law professor specializing in reproductive care, policies that affect families, and political partisanship, I have followed the relationship between abortion restrictions and family well-being for decades. It turns out that the states that are hardest on abortion tend to have the worst child and family well-being statistics anywhere in the country.

Unwanted pregnancy and infant mortality

Take Mississippi, the state that enacted the Abortion Restriction Act that was the focus of the Supreme Court’s June 2022 opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which nullified federal protections for abortion rights.

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In 2019, Mississippi had the highest rate of unwanted pregnancies, defined as the percentage of women who have recently given birth but whose pregnancies were either unwanted or occurred at an unintended time. In Mississippi, 47% of women who have recently had a child did not want to become pregnant or wanted to become pregnant later in life.

In contrast, Vermont had the lowest rate of unintended pregnancies nationwide in 2019, with just 20% of women who had recently had a child saying they would have preferred not to become pregnant or plan to do so at some point in the future. This state already protects the right to abortion. If Vermont’s upcoming abortion referendum is passed, the state’s constitution will protect “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy.”

Mississippi also has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. Five of the other nine states with the highest infant mortality rates also have abortion bans. At the other end of the spectrum, of the 10 states with the lowest infant mortality rates, only one — Iowa — has a law restricting abortions, although a court has prevented its enforcement.

Child poverty and teenage birth rates

Mississippi has the highest child poverty rate in the country. Six of the other 10 states with the highest rates of child poverty in the country also have abortion bans in place: Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

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Mississippi also had the highest teen birth rate in the state, and eight of the other nine states with the highest teen birth rates ban abortion or have blocked a ban.

In all 10 states with the lowest teenage birth rates, abortion is legal and likely to be protected for the foreseeable future.

support families

Children’s well-being also depends on the availability of support for their parents.

For example, 11 states and the District of Columbia require employers by law to provide employees with paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Neither of these jurisdictions prohibits abortion.

Another federal effort to support families came in the Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010, with sweeping changes to the country’s health insurance market. A provision allowed states to extend Medicaid eligibility to more adults with federal funding. If Medicaid were expanded, women of childbearing age would be among the groups that would experience the greatest gains in coverage.

As of August 2022, 12 states had not adopted the expansion: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Eight of those states have either a total abortion ban or a ban after six weeks — before many people realize they’re pregnant.

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Two of those states, South Carolina and Wyoming, have abortion laws that are court-bound, and Florida bans abortions after 15 weeks.

In a June 2022 Brookings Institution study of the states considered the most child-friendly—as measured by state spending per child and children’s overall wellbeing—the authors found that out of the top 10, only Wyoming even attempted abortion to forbid. Of the 10 states Brookings rated as least child-friendly, nine had either an abortion ban or other abortion restrictions.

The overall pattern is clear: strong social safety nets and other anti-poverty programs are more readily available in states that also support access to abortion, while actual child and family well-being measures are often poorer in states that restrict abortion.

Naomi Cahn is a law professor at the University of Virginia. She is an expert in family law, trusts and estates, feminist jurisprudence, reproductive technology and aging and law.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. The Conversation is an independent and not-for-profit source for news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

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