US - Europe Abortion Law Comparisons, Revised
A correction, and "The Dog Who Caught The Car."
Today, for the first time, I’m deleting an article because it seems as if it was based on bad data. I don’t want to be responsible for spreading unintentional misinformation. This is a correction, a mea culpa, and some discussion on the general state of the abortion dialogue.
On May 5th 2022 I published a comparison between effective abortion law in the United States should Roe v Wade be overturned and the current state of European abortion law. The article showed that if Roe v Wade goes away, the state of abortion law in the United States would end up being vaguely similar to that of Europe, with some areas more restrictive and other areas considerably less restrictive. The article was based on this page from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice abortion research organization. Because they are well cited and pro-choice, I presumed they’d have their tables up to date, but it appears they do not. That page indicates some but not all of the “trigger bans” due to go into effect upon an overturning of Roe v Wade. I have revised the statistics and graphs from that article to include all trigger bans as described in this piece of research on Business Insider, and the charts look noticeably different. Behold the new chart.
The most significant difference between this chart and the prior published one, is that including all trigger bans, 22.1% of the US population will no longer have access to legal abortion without some extenuating circumstance should the laws trigger, as compared to 8.5% of Europe. This is over twice as many people by ratio as Europe who would have to circumvent the ban via travel, telemedicine, or similar means.
But 67% of Americans have more access to abortion than Europeans have at the legal level. 4.9% of Americans currently have access to abortion up until the day the baby is born, which vastly exceeds the liberty to do so anywhere in Europe. We are more extreme, on both ends, than Europe.
First let’s look at “health of the mother” exceptions to abortion bans. Every state in Europe and all but one state in the USA post Roe provide an exception to the law for the health of the mother. To properly visualize this, let’s just redo the prior chart.
This very silly graph drives the point home. Unless you live in Oklahoma, the “life of the mother” talking point is irrelevant and can be entirely ignored. I will be surprised if Oklahoma doesn’t scramble to stick a “life of the mother” exception into their law in the near term, because it’s likely they didn’t consider the consequences of their actions when they passed their law. They passed it to pander for votes.
This also exposes what I believe to be a fundamental dynamic in play here in the USA. Our two hottest political topics, I’d say, are guns and abortion. Blue states pass unconstitutional gun restrictions to pander to their voting base knowing the Supreme Court is going to eventually thump them. Red states pass restrictions to abortion which are unconstitutional at the time due to standing SCOTUS case law, to pander to their voting base knowing they can use SCOTUS decisions to shield them from the consequences of their actions. Now the red states stand to be the proverbial “dog who caught the car” on the horizon. What are they going to do now?
The Business Insider link is instructive, and worth a read. They did a fair bit of investigative journalism, speaking with state level officials, health departments, and such, and determined that for now none of them know what they’re going to do if the leaked ruling is issued as written. Some refused to comment, and those who did comment shared no details about potential enforcement. The bureaucrats have no plan, which is unsurprising because bureaucrats never have a plan, they just do what the elected officials tell them to do in cases like this. Their primary directive is to implement the will of the machine so they don’t lose their job.
Curiously, the leak gives states the time to prepare. I doubt this was the leaker’s motivation, time will tell, but in this specific case the leak could be construed as having a generally positive benefit to the overall infrastructure of local and state government.
USA Public Opinion
Americans as a whole vastly prefer what Europe basically already has. The Pew Research Center intensely follows this topic, as you might expect, and they released their most recent appraisal on May 6th. It has some interesting charts, such as this one:
US citizens overwhelmingly agree that pregnancy stage should matter in the discussion.
A finer grained analysis shows that support for abortion rights is very strong at six weeks, relatively balanced at 14 weeks, and falls off considerably at 24 weeks.
This data generally matches up with Gallup’s work on the same subject, where trimesters are king of the discussion. This graph is from analysis in 2018:
The Pew and Gallup numbers don’t match exactly, but they are both indicative of a general trend. Per Gallup two thirds of Americans support abortion approximately to the median European limit, less than one third support it through the predominant blue state limit of 24 weeks, and only one in eight support it through the limits adopted by Oregon, New Jersey, Vermont, and New Mexico.
The numbers speak for themselves. On abortion, the majority of Americans want laws like the majority of Europe already has. But our systems of politics are weighted to elevate extremist views, so we end up with more people prohibited from abortions than agree with that policy, and more people with access to later term abortion than agree with that policy.
And when the dialogue transpires within social media, the moderate view, the European view, is castigated by both sides. Bombarded by a stream of handwaving freakoutery.
And it’s curious, that in my dialogue the past week on this subject, siding with the majority of Americans and basically all of Europe has somehow become a “hot take.”