States with some of the toughest abortion laws in the country are also some of the hardest places to have and raise a healthy child, especially for the poor, according to an analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
The findings raise questions about the strength of the social safety net as these states stand ready to further limit or even ban access to abortion following an expected US Supreme Court decision later this year. The burden will likely fall heaviest on those on low incomes, who are also least able to seek an abortion in another state where the procedure remains widely available.
Mississippi has the nation’s highest percentage of children living in poverty and low birth weight babies, according to the latest available 2019 data from the US Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control. Texas has the highest rate of women living during receive no prenatal care in their first trimester, and the second-worst place for the proportion of children in poverty who are uninsured, the data shows.
Laws from both states are at the center of the nationwide struggle over access to abortion. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court in a Mississippi case signaled a willingness to rule Roe v. Cannibalize or knock down Wade.
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Anti-abortion lawmakers there say they will continue to fund adoption and foster care programs when abortion is banned, as well as fund alternatives to abortion programs.
If Roe is overthrown, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion soon, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that advocates for abortion rights. Many of these states fared poorly on measures considered by bipartisan advocacy groups to be key to getting children off to a healthy start.
The data analyzed by the AP illustrates the hurdles pregnant women and their children face in states with the most stringent abortion restrictions and how access to resources can lag behind that of states that also have more permissive abortion laws.
Jazmin Arroyo, a 25-year-old single mother in Kokomo, Indiana, had to stop working as a receptionist after the birth of her first child because she couldn’t afford day care.
Arroyo found a job as a restaurateur, but there was no insurance and her second child has a heart defect. She now has thousands of unpaid medical bills.
“I never could have imagined how difficult it would be in the end,” she said.
Indiana has the second-highest rate of women — 18% — not receiving prenatal care during their first trimester, and has a high percentage of children in poverty without insurance, more than 9%.
The AP analyzed numbers from multiple federal agencies into seven categories — metrics that several nonprofit organizations and experts have identified as essential in determining whether children are getting a healthy start.
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In general, states that had pre-emptive abortion bans or laws that severely restricted access to abortion had the worst rankings. Alabama and Louisiana, along with Mississippi, are the three states with the highest percentage of babies born with low birth weight. Texas, Indiana, and Mississippi had the highest percentage of women who did not receive prenatal care during their first trimester.
In response to the AP’s findings, many conservative state lawmakers said women could put their newborns up for adoption and said they would support an increase in funding for foster care programs. In Oklahoma, GOP Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said he would work to increase salaries for child care workers and state funds for foster parent adoption.
“There will be a commitment there, but it will not be a new commitment. It will be a continuous effort on our part,” he said.
Some Democratic-controlled states with more permissive abortion laws also fared poorly in some categories.
New Mexico ranks third highest for the proportion of its children living in poverty, Delaware ranks fifth highest for the percentage of women who do not receive early prenatal care, and California ranks among the five states — between Oklahoma and Arkansas — for the proportion of women and children on food stamps.
These states are generally outliers. Overwhelmingly, the data show far more challenges for newborns, children and their parents in states that restrict abortion.
Abortion restrictions and troubling economic data aren’t directly linked, but finance is one of the top reasons women want abortions, according to a study by Diana Greene Foster, a professor of reproductive science at the University of California, San Francisco.
Children of women who have been denied an abortion are more likely to live in households that don’t have enough money to support themselves, her work has found.
Texas last year passed an unusual law that leaves enforcement of an abortion ban to civilians after six weeks — a law the Supreme Court has largely left in effect.
Maleeha Aziz, an organizer for the Texas Equal Access Fund, had an abortion as a 20-year-old college student after birth control failed. She has also experienced an illness called hyperemesis gravidarum, which causes persistent, extreme nausea and vomiting.
“I was a vegetable. I couldn’t move,” said Aziz, who later had a daughter. “Pregnancy is no joke. It’s the hardest thing a person’s body will ever have to go through.”
In Texas, 20% of first-trimester women do not receive prenatal care, according to pregnancy risk assessment data collected by the CDC in 2016, the most recent data available from that state. The lack of prenatal care increases the risk that the mother will die or give birth to a baby with a low birth weight.
Anti-abortion advocates in Texas also point to a program called Alternatives to Abortion. As with similar groups in other states, it funds pregnancy counseling, adoption services, and classes on life skills, budgeting, and parenting.
“We think this social network is very important to support pregnant women and families-to-be now,” said John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life.
Most of these groups, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers, are not licensed to provide medical care.