Culture is behind the enormous abortion-rate disparities between states

On Thursday, the House rejected the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), which would have banned sex-selective abortions. In the lead-up to the vote, critics and supporters of PRENDA trotted out the usual pro-choice and pro-life arguments, as well as some more novel ones. But neither side made an issue of the striking disparities in state-level abortion rates.

Those disparities are larger than most people realize. New York’s abortion rate is five and a half times higher than Idaho’s, and California’s abortion rate is four times higher than Kentucky’s. In general, abortion rates are low in the Deep South, the Mountain West and the rural Midwest, and high in the Northeast, the Far West and the industrial Midwest. In 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, 11 states had single-digit abortion rates, and the abortion rate in Mississippi (5%) was slightly lower than the abortion rate in Ireland, where elective abortion is illegal. Meanwhile, New York had a 33% abortion rate, Delaware had a 32% abortion rate, the District of Columbia and New Jersey had 28% abortion rates, Maryland had a 26% abortion rate and Rhode Island and Connecticut had 25% abortion rates. Florida and California had the highest abortion rates outside the Northeast.

Studies show that differences in state abortion laws account for some of this cross-state variation. As you might expect, restrictive abortion laws — laws requiring waiting periods and parental notification, for instance — result in fewer abortions. That partly explains why the states that consistently get F’s on NARAL’s Women’s Reproductive Rights Report Card, like Mississippi and Utah, tend to have lower abortion rates than the states that consistently get A’s, like New Jersey and New York (see chart).

But the biggest driver of these disparities seems to be culture. In states where abortion is widely viewed as unacceptable, few people have abortions. In states where abortion is widely seen as an acceptable, if undesirable, alternative to going through with an unwanted pregnancy, abortion rates are much higher.

That’s good news for pro-lifers, because polls show that Americans are becoming increasingly pro-life. If that trend continues, places like Delaware will gradually become less accepting of abortion, and abortion rates will fall.

Peter Tucci is an editor at The Daily Caller.