A leaked Supreme Court opinion suggests that Roe v. Wade may be overturned this summer, forthrightly moving abortion policymaking to the states. The states have played an important role in bringing about the decision, setting the stage for the fights to come. Now abortion bills are moving from symbolic politics to real consequences. Rebecca Kreitzer discusses her work on abortion politics, including the role of women representatives, interest groups, and public opinion, helping us understand how we got here and prepare for what’s to come.
Guest: Rebecca Kreitzer, University of North Carolina
Matt Grossmann: Abortion politics takes center stage this week on the Science of Politics. From the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. A leaked Supreme Court opinion suggests that Roe V. Wade may be overturned this summer, forthrightly moving abortion policy making to the states. The states have been active leading up to the decision, playing an important role in bringing it about and setting the stage for the fights to come. Now, all those abortion bills are moving from symbolic politics to real consequences, and both parties are preparing for the new wave.
This week, I talked to Rebecca Kreitzer of the University of North Carolina. It’s a wide ranging discussion about her long work on abortion politics, including the role of women representatives, interest groups, and public opinion. We’re highlighting her forum article with Abigail Matthews and Emily Shilling, “Gendered Polarization and Abortion Policy Making in the States.” We also discuss how political scientists and sociologists think about abortion politics and its role in polarization. There’s about to be a lot of consequential elections in the states. Republicans have been better preparing for this moment, but they may not be ready for the backlash. Abortion has long been a central issue in our politics, but a lot is about to change. Kreitzer helps us understand how we got here and prepare for what’s to come. Here’s our conversation.
So if you could start by orienting us a bit about state abortion policy leading up to this Supreme Court action, what have been the largest recent trends and where does the Mississippi law fit in?
Rebecca Kreitzer: The history of abortion policy in the US is quite interesting. And I think it’s worth starting at the beginning. In the early colonial era, abortion was quite common. And in fact, up until the 1820s, it was legal to have an abortion before quickening, which typically occurs around the 17th to 20th week. And that’s when the pregnant person can feel the fetus moving inside. From about the 1820s to the 1880s, we started to see states pass more restrictions on abortion, including pre-quickening. And we really saw that by the 1880s, almost all states had restricted abortion.
But then after that, we started to see some changes where especially the medical establishment was advocating for more liberal abortion policies actually. So leading up from the early 1900s to Roe versus Wade, we see this move towards more liberal policy. And then once Roe was announced, there was an immediate backlash in many states where states would try to pass restrictions in light of this new legal right.
And then really since the 2000s… Actually I’ll say since Casey, which is a Supreme Court case in 1992, we’ve seen that there has been a push towards what many scholars have called strategic incrementalism. In other words, states trying to carve away at legal abortion rights. And then I would say there was another sharp turn in the last four years. So as activists in the states recognize that the composition of the federal judiciary had shifted quite substantially, it seemed like a new ripe time in order to challenge the status of abortion overall. So then we’ve started to see states’ past laws in recent years that are blatantly against the Supreme Court precedent of Casey and Webster and Roe, and would’ve been seen as radical in the 1970s and 80s. So on the one hand, Mississippi is not at all unique in the sense that there are many other states that have introduced or passed restrictions on abortion that are similarly or even more conservative. But on the other hand, it’s blatantly in violation of Supreme Court precedent.
Matt Grossmann: So Justice Alito cites some of this history in the draft opinion. What does he leave out? And what role is that history playing in decision making here?
Rebecca Kreitzer: In the draft opinion, I would describe it as a pretty sloppy rendition of history. So for example, Alito says that we haven’t always had this established right to abortion. And then he goes through and discusses all of these abortion restrictions that we had in place, which all identified quickening as the time period in which before then abortion was common. So Alito making the claim that abortion hasn’t been around or wasn’t legal in earlier time periods is just simply not accurate even if you look at his own citations. If anything, there’s been a longstanding tradition of allowing abortion up until roughly the 20th week.
It’s also worth noting that part of Alito’s argument is that these rights are recent. And so he emphasizes that in the past these rights haven’t existed. And I would just point out that is a problematic claim in the sense that there are many rights that we recognize today that did not exist several hundred years ago. And so, although Alito says that our idea of ordered Liberty ought to be rooted in history, we should also be cognizant of who was excluded in history.
Matt Grossmann: So you recently analyzed the role of women representatives and polarization state abortion policy making. So give us the big takeaways and their implications.
Rebecca Kreitzer: There’s been some interesting trends with polarization in state legislatures in recent years. So many political scientists have looked at how polarization levels in Congress and state legislatures have increased in recent years. My co-authors and I are interested in this question of gender polarization. So not just are the two parties becoming further apart, but are women, Republicans and women Democrats becoming further apart? This question is interesting because in the past, women who were elected typically were more liberal than their male counterparts. So Republican women were more liberal than Republican men and Democratic women more liberal than Democratic men, but in recent years in part driven by the election of new women to the Republican party who are more conservative, we’ve seen this gender polarization.
And what we find is that overall levels of polarization in state legislatures actually decrease the likelihood that restrictive abortion policy is introduced. We think this is in large part because when polarization is high, the two parties have clear platform positions on the issue of abortion. And it’s not really seen as under threat, but when there is an increase in gender polarization. So when the women on the two parties become further apart, we actually see that there is more policy that is introduced that restricts abortion. And so my other work, I find that conservative women in this newer era are more likely to introduce abortion policy, especially when they can frame it in terms of representing women.
Matt Grossmann: And there seems to be a perception that there’s a large gender divide in this issue, but in public opinion, it doesn’t always show up. How does it play in legislatures? And is there a divide in either salient or pro-choice, pro-life opinion between men and women?
Rebecca Kreitzer: Okay. Wow. There’s a couple of questions in there. So let me first talk about what we see among the mass public and policy makers, but then let me circle back to public opinion because I have quite a bit to say about public opinion. So there is a general perception, oftentimes that women are more liberal on the issue of abortion, but that’s actually not true. The gender gap is dwarfed by the size of the partisan gap. So there’s really, that is ever since the 1980s, when the party started to take clearer positions on the issue of abortion, partisanship has been a stronger predictor than gender has itself. In legislatures, we see clear patterns in terms of which policy makers are active in regulating abortion. Historically among Republicans, it typically was Republican men. This is in part because Republican women didn’t want to be perceived as leading the war on women and risk the ire of their own political party by being pro-choice.
So notably, some of that research comes from Congress and Michelle [inaudible 00:08:30] work interviewing Republican women. But in recent years, and in part, because of the election of more conservative Republican women today, abortion policy is driven both by Republican men and women. On the other side, we see that Democrats, similarly, men and women introduce pro-abortion rights bills, but we see that Democratic women in particular are effective at stopping the passage of restrictive abortion policy.
So similarly, Democratic men and women advocate for liberalizing abortion policy, but the Democratic women are particularly effective in committees and elsewhere in stopping restrictive policy. So public opinion on this is really interesting too. It’s one of my favorite things to talk about in part because there is so much to say about it. So many people incorrectly assume that women ought to be more liberal on the issue of abortion. But then when you look at surveys, you find that there is little gender gap, but it actually really depends on the other variables in the model.
And there’s a complicated interaction between gender, race, religious membership, and attendance, as well as partisanship. And this is in part because religion operates a little differently for men and women, as well as within, for example, Latino and black communities. So it’s in part because of this religious membership. And so, there’s a complicated three part interaction between gender, race, and religion, as well as partisanship. But another thing is that when you control the model for having feminist orientations or a feminist ideology, then there is a gender gap that emerges.
And so there’s a lot to be said about model specification, so that’s kind of one thing to say about it. But another thing to say about it is that abortion overall and public opinion is especially murky. And I would say that it’s murkier than other issues. So on the one hand, we often think about abortion as this quintessential easy issue. And by easy issues, we think that the mass public can easily form opinions on them and that it should shape elections. And we do see that over time, there’s been this very remarkable stability at the aggregate level in public opinion. And you can see that when you look at the GSS or Pew or Gallup, and it looks like opinion on abortion really hasn’t changed all that much. But on the other hand, I think we have a pretty poor understanding of public opinion on the issue abortion. So I can give you a few examples. First, when people talk about things like pro-choice and pro-life, people have different understandings of what those words mean. And so, even though it may seem apparent on its face, people use them in complicated and contradictory ways. Another reason why is that, oftentimes these questions are getting it under what conditions people should be allowed to get an abortion, but they rarely ask about policy itself. So we have a mismatch between the types of questions that are being asked and then the actual policy. And then you can look at the types of things that are being asked.
So oftentimes, public opinion on abortion just asks if people are pro-life or pro-choice, and that’s more like an identity than a policy belief, or they ask if it should be easier or harder to get. But actually when you ask people what abortion laws exist in their states, they do a really bad job on knowledge questions. So to what degree can we believe these easier or harder questions? Or they’ll ask, “Should abortion be mostly legal or mostly illegal?” But what does mostly mean in those cases?
Another complaint is that sometimes people ask about whether or not Roe versus Wade should be overturned or upheld, but very few people understand the essential holdings of what Roe versus Wade even means. In summary, there’s a lot of really conflicting thoughts about it, and so, the way we ask public opinion questions is really important, and I think that it’s pretty murky in this area. A few other things to mention … another thing that’s really interesting is early socialization and public opinion on this issue, even more than some other ones.
So, one kind of interesting finding is that older women are the most supportive of abortion. And we don’t typically think of older women as being the most liberal on policy issues, there are very clear cohort differences that have to do with older women lived in a time where there was abortion scarcity. And we also see that early childhood religious socialization as well as gender roles when you’re a child has a big impact on your adult views about abortion. So, looking broadly, we see a decline in religiosity over time. So there’s interesting implications for the future of public opinion.
Matt Grossmann: So on that point for a little bit, Democrats seem to be acting as if there’s a clear pro-choice some majority in that they will be very unhappy with this decision, and it should support Democrats in elections and state policy making. Is that a good assumption or read on public opinion?
Rebecca Kreitzer: I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of Americans do support a legal right to abortion. So when we look at questions that say something like, “Should abortion never be legal under any circumstances?” Which is the position that many Republicans are taking today, that support really is between 10 and 15% of Americans think that abortion should never, ever be legal. At the same time there’s very few people who think that up until the last days and weeks of pregnancy, that abortion should be allowed either. So most people are in the middle, but definitely the Republican position is further from the mainstream position.
Matt Grossmann: Let’s talk about the recent activism that led in some ways to this Supreme Court decision. Tell us who was involved in pushing these new initiatives at the state level and was it the conservative Republican women?
Rebecca Kreitzer: So ever since Casey, which is a Supreme Court decision in 1992, the Supreme Court in that decision invited the states to bring forward test cases, to further clarify what would constitute an undue burden. So, if we were to restrict abortion policy, some of the restrictions that have more public support would be things like requiring that parents of minors be either notified or get consent, or limitations on the federal use of funds or public facilities to perform abortions, or put limits or protections in place to protect physicians from being forced to perform abortions.
So some of these bills that were passed early on were pretty popular. They weren’t seen as all that controversial. Around the 1990s and with Casey, we started to see more restrictions like having in a waiting period, but at first waiting periods were typically only 12 or 24 hours, but in recent years, waiting periods like here in North Carolina are 72 hours, not including holidays and weekends. But once you already have a waiting period in place, it’s easier to just nudge that to be further down the road.
Likewise, we’ve seen states start to pass increasingly radical bills that attempted to not just dissuade people from getting abortions, but really attempted to make abortions legal, but impossible to get because the clinics would be closed. So in recent years, we’ve started to see bills that are trying to do things like require that clinics do massive construction to become surgical centers when that’s really not necessary or to get certain licensing things.
So, this has been a very concerted effort and a joint effort between Republicans in state legislatures, as well as interest groups. And there’s a myriad of interest groups that have been involved in this. Among the legislators who have been pushing for it, initially it was driven by Republican men, but many of the bills that we’re talking about today, including the Mississippi bill was introduced by a woman. When it comes to interest groups, they have been very influential as well. And there’s really a constellation of different types of interest groups that have all been involved.
So, some of these interest groups involved sidewalk counseling, is the term that they prefer to use or protesting, others are more media-driven and still others are legal advocacy. So, notably one organization is the Americans United for Life, and they produce about 40 pieces of model legislation and have teams of lawyers who will work with state legislators to make sure that their bills have the best chance of passing in their state legislatures. So there’s been a strong, coordinated effort across these.
I would say if you’re interested in learning more about some of these types of interest groups, a really good book is The Making of Pro-life Activists by sociologists, Ziad Munson. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also talk about another type of interest group, which would be the evangelical and Catholic groups that have long been active on this, and Joshua Wilson and Amanda Hollis-Brusky have a good book that is getting at the way that these religious movements have tried to shape what our dominant legal culture looks like, which has really made the courts more receptive to these increasingly radical state abortion policies.
Matt Grossmann: Should this be considered just a general success of the conservative movement or of conservative organizing, or is this a specific success of this set of interest groups and single issue concerns?
Rebecca Kreitzer: On the one hand, abortion is often seen as the quintessential single issue that works to mobilize voters. In fact, the issue of abortion has been seen to impact elections on really every level from local all the way down through the presidency. But on the other hand, I think that abortion has been a tool that has been used by the Republican party in order to advance a broad set of policy gains. So certainly the focus on abortion has helped to shape the federal judiciary, but the federal judiciary will have an impact on a broad range of issues that are of interest to Republicans, including things wide ranging from environmental regulation to business, and a whole host of other things.
Matt Grossmann: So, where do we stand now? How ready are the states to deal with the policy making that they are about to be given by the federal judiciary, and where do Republican states versus Democratic states stand?
Rebecca Kreitzer: One thing that I think is really interesting is there seems to have been a believability gap among both Democrats and Republicans. Let me start with Republicans. So, Republicans have introduced increasingly radical abortion restrictions, but I think many didn’t expect them to actually pass. And so, Republicans may find themselves in a bit of an uncomfortable position needing to stand up for policy that may be more extreme than they’re comfortable with than their constituents are comfortable with.
Similarly, the Democratic party has long assumed that the federal judiciary in the Supreme Court would recognize the precedent and the essential holding of Roe versus Wade. And so, the Democratic party has not prioritized protecting abortion rights. At the same time that both parties have had a believability gap, activists on both sides have long been preparing for this moment. In just the few days since the leaked decision has come out, we’ve seen many state legislatures introducing bills or talking about introducing bills that would restrict abortion in pretty fundamental ways, as well as considering introducing bills to change other policies with the reasoning that it might be time to reconsider other fundamental rights, like for example, the fundamental right to education.
I think Democrats are particularly behind on this and their efforts today are likely to be too little and too late, given the stronghold that the Republican party has in many state legislatures, as well as the filibuster in Congress.
Matt Grossmann: So how do you expect this to play out in the states, especially in those states that have mixed partisanship or that would revert automatically to previous laws?
Rebecca Kreitzer: So some states will immediately go back to their previous laws. Some of these go back quite a long time. Others will go back to their pre-Roe era policies, still others have in place trigger laws. So these are laws that were written to be kicked into place if Roe were ever to be overturned. And for a whole host of other states, it’s going to be a frantic time of both parties rushing to regulate on the issue of abortion.
We’ve seen some policy makers in states like Kansas, where the right to abortion is part of their state constitution, talking about trying to see if they can undo that. We’ve also seen that some states are working to further ingrain the right to abortion either in their statutory laws or in their state constitutions. So I think this will be a significant topic of elections and debates for for several years and it’s going to be hard fought battles in many state legislatures. I think that because of the emphasis the Republican Party has had on abortion and some of these other adjacent issues like for example LGBTQ issues, I think that the Republican Party has kind of forced itself into a corner where it has to introduce policy to satisfy their voters. I think that the Democratic Party, including Democratic governors, will be active in vetoing legislation where it’s possible. And so it will be a very partisan fight across the whole country.
Matt Grossmann: So abortion policy is sometimes grouped as one of the women’s issues, it’s sometimes grouped as part of morality policy, sometimes as health policy. Do any of those categorizations make sense and sort of what’s at stake in deciding where abortion falls?
Rebecca Kreitzer: Abortion should be categorized as a health policy. Despite literally being a medical procedure, it’s often not framed in terms of being a health issue. People dance around talking about abortion, including oftentimes not using the word abortion. They’ll say, “I had a termination perhaps for medical reasons.” Or they’ll say, “I had a procedure to complete a miscarriage.” And so many people don’t realize that abortion is the standard of care and that people die without it. And before abortion was legal, people would die of sepsis and it’s a slow death. It can take weeks of people dying in hospitals.
The interesting thing is that some people don’t even realize that they themselves have had an abortion. So it should be discussed more as a health issue in part because abortions are needed for medical reasons, including ectopic pregnancies, completing miscarriages when the life or health of the pregnant person is at stake. And I’ll add there that, I mean, the physical and emotional, psychological wellbeing. So pregnancy is incredibly traumatic to the body. And so it’s important that we think of it from that health lens.
Republicans have typically framed it as a morality issue, one of a life or death issue, or as an issue of radical feminists that are outside of the mainstream. Democrats have tried on a whole bunch of different frames to see what works, including framing it in terms of a women’s issue, an equity issue. Just earlier today, I saw that Janet Yellen came out talking about how abortion is an important economic right, as well as a human right. All of these have faced, I think, some mixed success in terms of those frames taking off. And it’s also important to note that there are some health professional associations that are pretty influential trying to lobby on this issue and frame it as a health issue, but that is not the dominant frame today.
Matt Grossmann: And what about from a political science perspective? Is abortion policy making more like, I guess, guns policy or something completely outside of it, or is it more like other health policy or other civil rights policies?
Rebecca Kreitzer: This is a great question. Oftentimes people think about abortion as being part of what are often called morality policies. And so morality policies are other ones that have to do with life or death like death penalty or assisted suicide, or have to do with sex like gay marriage or sodomy. The interesting thing is that I used to use that framing, kind of think about my work in the constellation of morality issues and how people think about them. But the reality is that today not that many people talk about abortion as if it was a morality issue. You see it most among the mass public in some activists, but activists and policy makers are far more likely to use instrumental rhetoric that’s talking about framing abortion as needing to be restricted to protect women or kind of other rationalistic arguments.
And so it’s increasingly not seen as something that’s framed in terms of life or death. On the other hand, I do think it’s also a salient cultural issue that it has a strong mobilizing effect with a very influential network of interest groups. And so for that reason, I think it does have some similarities as well with issues like guns. But in some ways, abortion is different from other policies because of the way it has really driven and designated the dividing lines in politics, even the way it’s used as a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, it’s used as a deciding mechanism where interest groups decide which candidates they’re going to support. So abortion has kind of its own higher status issue.
Matt Grossmann: So is there a political science perspective on abortion? Is this an issue that is mostly ignored by discipline and kind of where does it stand relative to like sociology where there seems to have been more interest, especially in social movement literature over time?
Rebecca Kreitzer: So to some degree, these different disciplines have been asking pretty fundamentally different questions. So as you said, sociologists have focused less on policy making and more on questions of social movement organization, who gets abortions, access to care, and stigma. Law schools have focused mostly on legal reasoning and court dynamics and actually abortion has been largely ignored by political science.
When I started working on my dissertation in the 2010s, many senior scholars told me that this was a niche issue that was really settled and that there wasn’t anything new to learn from it. I think many political scientists thought that Casey, the 1992 law, had settled things and that therefore there wasn’t new things to study. Today, there are a lot more political scientists who are studying the issue of abortion, including from a range of different perspectives, from a judicial legitimacy, public opinion representation standpoint. But I would describe our own discipline as being behind on this issue and playing catch-up to other disciplines.
Matt Grossmann: What about its history? I mean, there’s lots of people who point out that the Republicans and Democrats in Congress did not used to be divided on this issue and that sort of how the parties moved apart on abortion might be a big part of the story of polarization. So where do we stand in understanding that?
Rebecca Kreitzer: Yeah, there’s some pretty interesting research done by historians about when did abortion become political, and then when did it become partisan? And so I think abortion became political in the 20th century, but it really wasn’t towards the end of the 20th century and the emergence of the moral majority when we started to see the two parties take distinctive positions on this issue. In fact, before that, the Republican Party and Democratic Party similarly talked about abortion rights and it wasn’t until the 1980s and the emergence of the moral majority when the Republican Party started to take a distinctly anti-abortion rights stance and Democrats the other way.
And then over time, if you look at party platforms, it’s a good indicator to represent how the parties have polarized on this issue because you see that the party platforms over time take increasingly polarized positions with Democrats advocating for broad abortion rights and Republicans the opposite. And there has been stuff written in political science about the role of elites in shaping public opinion as well as issue evolution. And so we do know, for example, that the political parties first separated on this issue driven by activists and that over time, the public has adopted the opinions of their political party when it comes to abortion. So for that reason, I do think that the issue of abortion is a strong explanation for how we’ve gotten where we are today with respect to polarization.
Matt Grossmann: And the kind of traditional explanation, you said the activist, is to think about evangelical organizing the Republican Party and feminist organizing in the Democratic Party. Is that a good explanation for how this occurred?
Rebecca Kreitzer: I think it’s, I would say, evangelical and Catholic organizing together. But on the other hand, referencing again the book I mentioned earlier, The Making of Pro-life Activists by Ziad Munson, one of his main takeaways from the book is he actually finds that people sometimes join social movements, including join these pro-life movements for solidarity reasons, to become friends of people that they met and that they later adopt the positions of the social movement. And so it’s not always the case that people are first moved to become activists because of their religion. I think the causal ordering there is murky and sometimes goes in other directions.
It is true that the women’s movement has shaped activism on the issue of abortion. But I would say that the women’s movement as a whole has hedged on it and has not been the fierce advocates for it that they could have been. One group that has been very active, and I use group loosely, is the movement called Reproductive Justice. And so Reproductive Justice as a movement has been around since the 1990s, started by an organization SisterSong and about a dozen other women of color led organizations. And these women of color led organizations have been very influential in shaping how we think about what reproductive justice would look like and they have been the most reliable advocates for legal abortion.
And ironically, because they are women of color, they are often called the backbone of the Democratic Party, but the Democratic Party really takes their issues for granted and assumes that they will vote for the Democratic Party and not the Republican Party. So despite the very strong continued advocacy of women of color on the issue of abortion, the Democratic Party hasn’t really engaged with that.
Matt Grossmann: So what about the comparative context that conservatives claim that abortion policy is very liberal compared to other countries in the US. Is there anything that can be learned about international trends in abortion policy making in terms of what to expect here?
Rebecca Kreitzer: I think it would be ahistorical to say that access to abortion in the US is more liberal than it is in other places. Historically, we’ve been somewhere in the middle of the pack. We are far behind other countries in terms of availability and legality of medication-based abortion, which has been broadly accessible and legal in many countries.
Which has been broadly accessible and legal in many countries. And certainly states have the trajectory of states are moving towards pushing for increasingly conservative and restrictive abortion, including taking away exceptions that are pretty popular with the mass public.
So some of these newer laws, for example, do not carve out exceptions for abortions when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, for example, or even the wellbeing of the pregnant person as opposed to the health, the life of the pregnant person. If we’re looking comparatively, we would note that several countries around the world have actually liberalized their abortion policy in recent years, including very Catholic countries like Argentina, Mexico, and Ireland.
And Ireland, I think is an interesting example because the legalization of abortion there was really driven in large part by mobilization around the issue after a woman was denied an abortion because although her health was at stake, her life was not and then they delayed on giving her an abortion and then she died. And so I think that what we will see is some of that in the US and that that will shape the movement to legalize abortion highlighting stories like that.
Matt Grossmann: So we had this recent controversy because Texas passed a law that had a sort of a workaround to getting rid of abortions. But it doesn’t seem like that that was necessary because Mississippi took a much more direct approach. How do you expect conservative states to end up legislating on this issue?
Rebecca Kreitzer: Texas is not alone. In fact, that’s been inspirational. Oklahoma recently passed a similar law, and I believe it’s Idaho passed a law restricting access to transgender youth to healthcare with the same reporting mechanisms meant to evade judicial scrutiny. I think that that was seen as a strategic workaround that might be successful.
But you’re right. It might not have been necessary for them to go to such extreme lengths given the current composition of the Supreme court. I think it’s more likely that states will take a straightforward approach now that they are given the okay from the Supreme Court assuming the ultimate Dobbs decision reflects similarly to the draft. I think many states will try to, not try, many states will restrict abortion very substantially or prohibit it altogether. And we will see once again, the ways in which federalism creates very different policy environments across the US.
I think it’s very likely that the Southeast will broadly make abortion illegal with North Carolina potentially being the only state in the south to allow abortions. Currently our state law that we would revert to allows it up to the 20th week and we have a democratic governor. But with an election coming up, it’s possible that the very gerrymandered legislature will have a veto proof majority in which case abortion would become completely inaccessible in the Southeast.
So what we’ll see is what many activists have predicted for years, which is that this will just further the inequality of who is able to get access. White women of means have always been able to travel in order to get divorces or get abortions and we will continue to see that. And we will continue to see people of color who can’t navigate crossing state lines or the bureaucracy of it, or afford it to continue to experience unintended pregnancies or to increasingly start seeking alternatives.
And alternatives are typically not adoption or foster care, so that’s been a recent argument that some people have said. About 20,000 kids age out of foster care every year and most kids in foster care have parents who want them back. And there’s some pretty heartbreaking stories of people being pushed into adoption. So I think instead of seeing an increase in people giving up babies for adoption, we’ll see increasingly people looking for medication abortion online.
So as some states have restricted access to medication abortion, we’ll see a further bifurcation between people who get medication abortions with the support of physicians via telemedicine in their states versus others who are self sourcing the medication for abortion. And there is a black market with fake medication and so there’s also an information gap there. And so I think that’s what we’ll see as states continue to restrict access.
Matt Grossmann: And what about for you? Where is research going to be traveling from here? What do you think the most critical areas are going to be for studying this as it now moves to the states or very likely does?
Rebecca Kreitzer: As I’ve said, political science is behind the game on this. So I think there’s many avenues where we could be better studying this issue. A couple of the things that I’m working on is some work on public opinion and trying to better capture the nuances and complexities of public opinion. I also am doing a lot of work currently on model legislation. So groups like Americans United for Life have been highly successful in getting their legislation adopted.
And so I’m working with some co-authors on how model legislation evolves over time and the role that it’s played in state legislatures. And I also have a NSF grant right now where I’m working on what my team and I are calling contraception deserts. The politics of abortion has bled over into other issues. And so while issues like contraception used to be very nonpartisan, in fact, President Nixon was a strong advocate for family planning, today we see that it has become akin to abortion. And so I think it’s important that we study some of these spillover effects as well.
Matt Grossmann: One story is that this is just a continuation of polarized policy making. We’re going to expect red states to ban abortion, blue states to make abortion legal. Is that a fair expectation or is there sort of something about this issue that’s going to make it different once the states are making real decisions rather than sort of symbolic ones?
Rebecca Kreitzer: I think at first we’ll see that very symbolic self sorting into blue states and red states with respect to abortion access. But I think it will be really interesting to watch the response to the ultimate court decision, as well as the response to people struggling to find access. So there’s already evidence that from Texas, for example, that the number of people who’ve gotten abortions from Texas is nearly the same as it was before SB8, they’re just getting them in other states.
But as more and more states restrict access to abortion, there simply is not going to be sufficient supply of providers. And it’s possible that we’ll see a backlash effect. There’s some political science literature that looks at the backlash effect of Roe versus Wade and found that there was a mobilizing effect of conservative interest groups in response to Roe which legalized the right to abortion.
And I think that we’ll see mobilization of interest groups on both sides in response to Dobbs. But one side has been sleeping on the job a little bit. So I would say that the Democratic side and advocates for legal abortion may be more mobilized by the Dobss decision.
Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center and part of the Democracy Group network. I’m your host, Matt Grossmann. If you like this discussion, you should check out our previous related episodes. I think you’ll like are red and blue states making red and blue policies, how the Federalist society changed the Supreme Court vetting process, have conservatives transformed the states, how gun politics and gun policy polarize America and the resistance, who is protesting Trump and are they changing public views? Thanks to Rebecca Kreitzer for joining me. Please check out gendered polarization and abortion policy making in the states and then listen in next time.
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