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

Some proponents of abortion bans and restrictions say they are concerned about “supporting not just life,” but what they call “quality of life worth living,” saying they want to promote laws and policies that help families. Three authors from Brigham Young University, for instance, have noted that the overturning of Roe v. Wade provides a “genuine opportunity for pro-lifers to work with people of diverse political persuasions to seek a more just and compassionate world. This world would be not only pro-life, but also pro-child, pro-parent and pro-family.”

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah is one of three Republicans in the Senate who have sponsored a bill called the Family Security Act, billed as a “pro-family, pro-life and pro-marriage plan” that would provide a monthly cash benefit starting at pregnancy and continuing through the child turning 17.

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

As a law professor who studies reproductive care, policies that affect families and political partisanship, I have been following the relationship between abortion restrictions and family well-being for decades. It turns out that states taking the strictest stands against abortion tend to have among the worst statistics on child and family well-being in the nation.

Unintended pregnancy and infant mortality

Take Mississippi, the state that enacted the abortion restriction law that was at the center of the Supreme Court’s June 2022 opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down federal protection for the right to get an abortion.

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

By contrast, Vermont had the nation’s lowest rate of unintended pregnancy in 2019, with just 20% of women who recently had a child saying they would have preferred not to get pregnant or wanted to do so at some point in the future. That state already protects abortion rights. If Vermont’s upcoming referendum on abortion passes, 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 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.

Childhood poverty and teen birth rates

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

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

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