The Roundup

Access to Abortion and What it Reveals About Oklahoma

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Posted 06.18.12

Photo courtesy Flickr user Elvert Barnes.

Oklahoma lawmakers have spent the past legislative session (and most of the ones before that) trying to legislate abortion out of the state. (In fact, the state’s attorney general is busy appealing a court ruling against a recently passed anti-abortion law as we speak.) But Oklahoma has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country, with nine in 1,000 women undergoing the procedure annually. And, if The Atlantic Cities’ analysis of abortion availability and its correlation to states’ social and economic standing is accurate, then Oklahoma’s low rate reveals key information about its—and its citizens—wellbeing.

The Atlantic Cities mapped the country’s abortion rate last week, offering a state-by-state analysis of the availability and procurement of the procedure. It revealed that a state’s abortion rate is correlated less to the morality of its citizens and more to the availability of services. From The Atlantic:

1997 study found that the variation of abortion rates turns on such issues as “whether there are abortion services nearby, whether state laws restrict access for minors, whether the community supports and tolerates abortion as a reproductive option, whether hospitals offer abortion services, and whether physicians perform abortions and provide referrals.”

Included in The Atlantic’s analysis is the number of women who travel to obtain abortions. “A 2005 study in the Annual Review of Public Health found that ‘nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of women seeking an abortion travel 50 miles or more to find a capable physician,’ ” the review reported on its web site.

Only 5.3 percent of abortions performed in Oklahoma are obtained by out-of-state seekers. In states bordering Oklahoma, the percentages of out-of-state women seeking abortion services is much higher: 48.4 percent in Kansas, for example, and 15.4 percent in Arkansas. Oklahoma is one of 27 states where more than 90 percent of counties lack any abortion provider at all.

The Atlantic called access to abortion services “stunningly unequal,” noting that “nearly nine in 10 (87 percent) of U.S. counties, home to more than one-third of women of reproductive age, lacked any abortion providers.” Kansas’ high rate of out-of-state abortions and its proximity to Oklahoma, where so many women lack access to such services, could suggest that at least a few of those are obtained by women from Oklahoma.

The analysis recognized that the geography of abortion “follows the red and blue political patterning of the states,” and is “positively associated with the share of state voters who voted for Obama in 2008 … and negatively associated with McCain votes.” Oklahoma earned its “reddest state” moniker when Obama failed to take any counties in the ’08 election.

“The geography of abortion also tracks that of religion,” The Atlantic reported. “A state’s abortion rate is negatively associated with the share of residents who say religion is a very important part of their daily lives.” Oklahoma recently earned the distinction of being one of the 10 “most Christian” states in the country.

Interestingly, The Atlantic found that “abortion rates are somewhat negatively associated with divorce rates … and even more so with the rate of serial marriages.” Last year, Oklahoma topped the list of states with the highest divorce rates.

The Atlantic also found that “richer” states tend to have higher abortion rates (Oklahoma’s per-capita income is $23,094, and 16 percent of residents are living below poverty level); states with high numbers of college graduates tend to have higher abortion rates (Oklahoma has the ninth worst six-year graduation rate in the country; only 44.1 percent of students earn their bachelor’s degrees); and states where occupations trend toward professional, technical, and creative work tend to have higher abortion rates. (Oklahoma’s top industry is “specialty trade contractors, a subsector that includes plumbers, concrete pourers, electricians and heating and air-conditioning technicians.”)

The conclusion The Atlantic’s researchers came to was that the rate of abortion is reflective not only of states’ political and religious leanings but also of their socioeconomic standing.

While the issue of abortion is typically posed in political or moral terms, its geography reflects the stark reality of class in America. Abortion and reproductive health services are more readily available in more affluent, more educated, more knowledge-based states, while women in poorer states with more traditional blue-collar economies face fewer, if any, choices for reproductive health services and must contend with far greater restrictions on their reproductive rights.

Holly Wall, News Editor