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Monday, April 17, 2006 

Post-Roe World

USA Today, newspaper of pretty pie charts and maps, has a pretty interesting map today about what abortion laws would look like in the US if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. They conclude that 22 states are likely to restrict abortion access significantly, affecting 49.6% of the population.

Since South Dakota passed a sweeping law to ban almost all abortions, focus in the abortion debate has shifted to the states. The states, after all, would be the battleground for future restrictions or protections if Roe would be overturned. Some states have already acted...
For instance, four states have passed "trigger" bans on abortion that would go into effect immediately if Roe were reversed. Six other states have passed laws that would automatically protect access to abortion. Three states have enacted all 11 of the current restrictions on abortion tracked by the non-profit Alan Guttmacher Institute, from requiring waiting periods to limiting abortion coverage in insurance plans. One state, Vermont, hasn't passed any restriction.

Parts of the map are a little confusing. For instance, the article has the following to say about Wisconsin...
There are some factors that this analysis doesn't take into account.

Among the states ranked as likely to enact new restrictions, Michigan and Wisconsin now have governors who support abortion rights and presumably would veto a ban if they were still in office.
But if you look at the map, Wisconsin is colored as one of the states that is likely to significantly restrict abortion access. The problem is that there are many factors to look at in this analysis, and this map is a little too simplistic. The article itself mentions one: Doyle. Expect this to be a top talking point in the election this fall. Another factor to look at is the Republican controlled legislature. Surely this would increase the likelihood of restrictions. That's doubtful if Doyle is governor, though. As it is currently, the legislature can't override his veto. Another factor to look at is how public opinion would change in a post-Roe world. That may significantly affect how people vote.

The article does its best to clear up the ambiguity and broad-brush approach of the map. But the problem with a map like this is that it doesn't look at the intricacies of state politics and more importantly, how the political climate of the country would change if Roe were overturned. That's a variable that is impossible to take account before it actually happens.

I think "simplistic" is the right word to choose. In a post-Roe world (or, more specifically, in a post-Casey world), I find it hard to believe that any state would continue to protect abortion-on-demand, even if the availability was protected to a great extent. There is near unaminity, I think, outside of crazy NARAL circles, as to the need for parental notification and/or consent; there is overwhelmign support for spousal notification; there is overwhelming hostility to partial-birth abortion. The big problem with Casey is that it constitutionalizes (and therefore freezes) a "solution" to an issue on which science and public opinion have continued to evolve. How ironic: those who argue for a flexible constitution, lest the constitution become brittle and snap, have set up exactly that tension in the abortion era. Yet another reason for the court to get out of this immensely damaging and distorting business, toute suite.

Moreover, I also think that the inclusion of Washington D.C. in the "abortion on demand" column is wrongheaded; my suspicion is that (barring a Democratic resurgence in Congress), there will be a bill in the hopper restricting abortion in all federal jurisdictions, including the D.C..

In hindsight, I think I should've been more forceful in my critique of the article. I think it may go beyond just being simplistic to being deceptive. USA Today is, I believe, still the most widely read paper in the world. As scary as that is on its face, this neat little map was seen by a lot of people. Without proper context for the actual political situation of a post-Roe/Casey world, this map may contain a lot of fearmongering material.

"49.6% of the population will have abortion access significantly restricted! Oooh, scary!" Yeah, but what does "significantly restricted access" actually mean? You are correct to point out that there is widespread support for parental notification, spousal notification, and partial birth abortion bans. If all of those are passed, does that count as "significantly restricted access"? Or are they saying that a South Dakota-like ban would be necessary to meet that threshold? I have a hard time discerning it from the article. It just seems like they wanted to shoehorn states into neat categories quickly and easily.

Also, I think the USA Today folks forgot about how DC itself is actually governed. They looked at the strong Democratic support in the population but forgot the role that Congress (specifically the Republican-controlled Congress) plays in DC matters.

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  • I'm Steve
  • From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
  • "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." P.J. O'Rourke
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