November 16, 2009

Visualizing the abortion debate

Abortion is a hotly contested political issue in the United States, as it has been since even before the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. Regardless of one's position on the matter, the ongoing debate often lends itself to hyperbole, obscuring the observable facts.In this visualization, the difference between the number of abortion alternatives and abortion providers listed in the Google Maps directory is mapped across the US in quarter degree intervals. The greatest difference in favor of abortion providers is found in New York City, with Los Angeles and Seattle representing a similarly disproportionate number of abortion providers. Similar to some previous maps we've published, this concentration of abortion providers has a strong urban bias. However, there are many cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Cincinnati which have more abortion alternatives than providers while some rural areas such as upstate New York and Maine have more providers.

Overall, the blue coverage across the United States shows that, in a vast majority of the country, abortion alternatives are much easier to find than abortion providers. So while the "pro-life" camp ended up on the wrong side of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, they have built a significant organizational infrastructure which can be leveraged to promote their cause, while "pro-choice" advocates remain concentrated primarily in the nation's more politically progressive urban centers.


  1. Have you ever wondered why the abortion providers have a strong urban bias? The foundress of Planned Parenthood also had a strong bias- against people of others colors than white. Sad, but true.

  2. Nice map...just one critique: need better color choices. The blue & green are so close in tone that it makes it difficult to discern the relationships of the data.

  3. Sarah Hawkins, abortion provides mostly work out of their own clinics. Planned Parenthood mostly provides birth control and sex education.

    Margaret Sanger's "bias" was a common belief among intellectuals of her day. Despite this, she was supported by by W.E.B. DuBois and admired by Martin Luther King Jr. Her first "urban" clinic was completely staffed by African-Americans and was given complete support from their churches in the area too. Sanger was also troubled by abortion - which is why she was such an advocate for birth control. These are her own words:

    "I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization."

    I'm assuming you throw off many of the Founding Fathers too, because many of them were slave owners. Don't get me started on Jefferson - his words usurped from the Declaration of Independence for the "pro-life" cause.

  4. FG, Check the Center for Disease Control, Planned Parenthood is the LEADING abortion provider in America.
    They establish their abortuary's in lower income areas of big cities, wspecially Black and Latino community's.

    43% of abortions are black women but they only make up 13% of the total population.
    Planned Parenthood is trying to reduce that 13%

    They lie to young woman and tell them not to reveal the age of the father so he won't get in trouble for statuary rape. A young woman named Lila Rose has revealed all these violations by visiting the centers and telling them she is 13 but the father is 31. They advise her to go to another PP but not to reveal the father's age...just tell the counselor you don't know who fathered the child.

  5. interesting map, thanks for putting it together.

    a few questions:
    1. what is defined as an "abortion alternative" service/provider?
    2. where did you get the abortion provider/clinic location data from?

  6. This map asserts a binary where none exists -- MANY if not MOST abortion providers are gynecologists who will prescribe birth control. Planned Parenthood is, in my experience, scrupulous to present ALL alternatives to women and girls who come to them for services - abortion, adoption, STD treatment, birth control. But your map captures none of this overlap, and suggests by its method of presentation that all abortion providers are aggressive in directing patients to a single alternative, which is really quite false. Whereas the so-called 'abortion alternatives' are typically only interested in keeping women pregnant, and do not refer for birth control or any other reproductive health services.

  7. Thanks for your comments, Molly and Lori. In this particular case, we were using data from the Google Maps directory, which automatically pulls data from pre-existing sources like the Yellow Pages. From there, it sorts the businesses it indexes into categories, like "schools colleges and universities", "hotels", "restaurants" and any number of other things.

    This map uses the Google categories for "Abortion Providers/Referral Services" and "Abortion Alternatives". In this sense, Lori is exactly correct to say that the map doesn't account for the potential overlap between the two categories and the politics associated with them (although some businesses ARE listed simultaneously as both abortion providers and abortion alternatives).

    But because these categories are defined by Google, and not us, this is something that we don't necessarily have any control over.

  8. Unbelievable in its revelation.

  9. What Sarah said is true. The found of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, wrote in a letter "...we must not let word get out that we wish to exterminate the negro population". At this time, some leaders in America had strong Eugenic beliefs and they were sterilizing people of "lower intelligence" or who weren't white! Once Hitler caught on, and starting massacring the Jews, America quickly switched its views.

    I also wanted to say that, while there may be more abortion alternatives, its funding is poor and most places can't help enough. Abortion clinics receive TONS of money every year from the government. This same government puts on cigarette boxes that smoking may harm the baby. Yet they don't think it is harming the baby to have them killed, usually at 10 weeks, when the baby has arms, legs, etc.

  10. @Bob Miller: Lila Rose is not a reliable source of information--neither is her associate James O'Keefe or Andrew Breitbart--as the debunking of the NPR "sting" should indicate. @ Faded-neither do "abortion clinics" receive any federal funding for abortions--that has been outlawed. People, do find a way to get to the facts.

  11. This map means absolutely zero to me without a definition of the difference between abortion provider and abortion alternative.

    Wouldn't all sides and everyone (except for idiots) plan children and promote birth control? And so the entire country would automatically be on the "abortion alternative" side.

    Reproductive women have innumerable subjective opportunities to become pregnant and so need active birth control unless they are actively pregnant, at which time the abortion provider might be pressed into action if necessary. And I say this as an experienced mother.


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