Last week on The Atlantic’s Cities website. there was an interesting analysis by Richard Florida on the geography of abortion. Florida obtains state-level abortion data from both the Centers for Disease Control and the Alan Guttmacher Institute and examines how well a range of political, demographic, and economic variables correlate with state abortion rates. The fact that Florida relies on correlations and fails to utilize regression techniques limits his analysis to a certain extent. However, his analysis does debunk some common myths about state abortion rates and provides evidence of pro-life progress.
The most important service that Florida’s analysis provides is that it drives home the point that red states have lower abortion rates than blue states. He shows that state abortion rates are positively correlated with support for President Obama in 2008. In the past, a number of commentators have tried to make the argument that abortion rates are lower in “contraception friendly” blue states than in “abstinence friendly” red states. However, time and time again, the data shows that red states have consistently lower abortion rates. Florida attributes the scarcity of abortion providers in the South and Midwest as the main reason for this. His analysis includes a map which shows that a vast majority of counties located in southern and Midwestern states lack an abortion provider.
Also, Florida cites some research indicating that state-level pro-life laws, including public-funding restrictions and parental-involvement laws, result in lower abortion rates. Florida could have expanded on this. At one point, the states enacting pro-life laws were more diverse ideologically. For instance, among the first states to enact pro-life parental-involvement laws were solid blue states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island. However, as a recent Guttmacher analysis demonstrates, the states most active in passing pro-life laws in recent years are located in the South and Midwest. This is also contributing to the lower incidence of abortion in red states.
Florida reports a number of other correlations as well. However, most of findings are predictable to those familiar with the differences between red states and blue states. States whose residents have high incomes and high levels of formal education also have higher abortion rates. Conversely, states whose residents have a high degree of religiosity possess lower abortion rates. The only counterintuitive finding is that divorce rates are negatively correlated with abortion rates. However, this is likely because southerners tend to marry at a younger age and have higher rates of divorce.
Florida’s analysis indirectly provides evidence of pro-life progress. In his essay he notes that during the 1970s and 1980s, the results of national elections were not correlated with state-level abortion rates. However, there have been two important developments since the 1980s. First is that attitudes on social issues have become a better predictor of voting behavior. Second, since the 1980s, Republicans have made substantial gains in numerous state legislatures. These gains have taken place across the country, but have been most heavily concentrated in southern states. The end result has been more pro-life laws, more regulations on abortion clinics, and lower abortion rates across the country.
— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan — Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New