Do red states really have high abortion rates?

I have often seen people claim that red states have fairly high abortion rates. The goal of this claim is apparently to paint red states as hypocrites about abortion, which I think is supposed to score a rhetorical point in favor of abortion access. I am not totally sure. Nonetheless, the claim is not really that well-founded.

Generally, this argument is made by pointing to data that tracks the number of abortions per 1000 women. Those numbers are certainly not a slam dunk for the idea that abortion is as prevalent in red states as blue states, but there are some classic red states that do score fairly high on that metric, e.g. Texas.

But when you think about it, that statistic is not very helpful. If you want to see whether states are living up to their pro-life politics, the proper measurement would seem to be abortions per pregnancy, not abortions per capita. Luckily, a 2010 Guttmacher study provides data on something it calls the abortion ratio, which is the number of abortions per 100 pregnancies. I could only find teenage abortion ratio numbers, but those are pretty telling.

To determine if there is any correlation between state political affiliations and teenage abortion ratios, I plotted teenage abortion ratios for all 50 states and DC by the percentage of votes cast for President Obama in 2008. This was the result:

States that voted for Obama at higher percentages also have higher abortion ratios. In fact, the state percentage of support for President Obama explains 64.7% of the variation in state teenage abortion ratios. It seems then that, as a general matter, the claim that red states are big hypocrites on abortion is not empirically supported.

The gender pay gap really does matter

Feminism has evolved significantly in the last few decades. Gone are the milquetoast second-wave emphases on liberal equality. The newest approach focuses on the overlapping oppression suffered by all sorts of identity groups. As part of this shift, certain issues have been discarded, and others de-emphasized. For instance, the rather white upper-class concerns about the lack of women CEOs has, understandably, subsided: that’s not really an issue that gets at the problems of the overwhelming majority of women or people in general.

As positive as this move has been, some things have been de-emphasized which really should not have been. One glaring case is the wage gap. It’s understandable how such a thing could seem like the height of upper-class, white lady feminism because it played and still does play a big role in that feminist wing. The wage gap discussion, for whatever reason, conjures up ideas of well-paid professionals complaining about their $75,000 income. But, as with all things economic, the real pain of the wage gap is felt by the poor, and especially women of color.

An AFL-CIO and Institute for Women’s Policy Research study from 2000 detailed the impact of the wage gap better than any other study I have come across. The numbers are about 15 years old, but I imagine they are still reasonably telling. According to the report, closing the wage gap would reduce the single mother poverty rate from 25.3 percent to 12.6 percent. Closing the gap would also reduce the single women poverty rate from 6.3 to 1.0 percent.

It goes without saying that such an improvement would have many positive spillover effects on the children and communities most blighted by poverty, which are disproportionately non-white. A movement that is nominally interested in racial justice and class justice — as the avant-garde of feminism now is — should have the wage gap as one of its major emphases. However, as with most economic things, discussions of the gap seem to elicit positive lip service at best, and snide scoffing at worse. Despite its associations with the upper-class white lady feminism of yesteryear, the wage gap issue remains an important one that we should still be vigorously working on.