Updated Sep 19, 2019 - Politics & Policy

How many steps it takes to get an abortion in each state

Data: Guttmacher Institute; Aïda Amer, Andrew Witherspoon

The most restrictive abortion laws in generations are working through the courts across America's red states, confusing some on whether abortion is legal where they live.

Where it stands: Women and transgender men must take 5-8 steps to get an abortion in the most heavily regulated states. They often have to wait at least 24 hours after seeking an abortion, attend counseling against the decision and take at least 2 trips to a facility — and in 6 states, only 1 such facility is available.

Why it matters: While abortion is a procedure related to reproductive health and is legal, the U.S. has been torn for more than 45 years over the moral and ethical considerations that go into ending a pregnancy.

  • State legislatures have tried to restrict the procedure since the Supreme Court's 1973 decision that the Constitution provides “a right to privacy," which allows a pregnancy to be terminated.

Steps required to obtain an abortion:

(1) Original trip to the facility; (2) Parental notification (only required for minors under 18); (3) Parental consent (only required for minors under 18); (4) Counseling to discourage; (5) Undergo a waiting period; (6) Perform/view ultrasound; (7) Trip to clinical facility; (8) Undergo procedure.

Data: Guttmacher Institute; Aïda Amer, Andrew Witherspoon
Data: Guttmacher Institute; Aïda Amer, Andrew Witherspoon
Data: Guttmacher Institute; Aïda Amer, Andrew Witherspoon
Data: Guttmacher Institute; Aïda Amer, Andrew Witherspoon
Data: Guttmacher Institute; Aïda Amer, Andrew Witherspoon

The Heartland divide: The Northeast and West Coast require the lowest number of steps to obtain an abortion, while restrictions increase in the South, Great Plains and Midwest.

  • Virginia is the most restrictive state in the U.S. for minors under 18, who must take 8 steps to have an abortion by obtaining parental notification and parental consent.
  • Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia are the most restrictive states for adults over 18.
  • Washington state, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Hawaii, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, Maine — plus D.C. — are the least restrictive states for adults and minors seeking abortions.
  • Utah, South Dakota, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Missouri have the longest wait times before one can undergo the procedure, clocking in at 72 hours.

Knowledge gaps: States differ on how much they publish about the number of abortions obtained each year, according to findings by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an arm of Susan B. Anthony List.

  • As of 2016, Oklahoma and Minnesota had the highest CLI scores for comprehensive and publicly available information on abortions.
  • States — and D.C. — voluntarily report data to the CDC's abortion surveillance system. The most recent data from the CDC shows that in 2015, New York (state and city) and Texas had the highest number of legal induced abortions, alongside those in unknown residencies.

The backdrop: President Trump has promised to appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade's 1973 decision. A recent surge of "fetal heartbeat" bills — most of which have been temporarily blocked in court — aim to challenge Roe's federal abortion protections.

  • The national abortion rate has dropped to 13.5, its lowest recorded level since Roe v. Wade's 1973 decision, according to the latest data from the Guttmacher Institute.
  • The institute asserted that "abortion restrictions were not the main driver of the decline in the U.S. abortion rate between 2011 and 2017."

Go deeper: The states that have passed abortion restriction laws

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the latest data from the Guttmacher Institute.

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