Abortion restrictions going viral?

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As state lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina move towards enacting tough new limits on abortions, Sunlight decided to use some of our data tools to see how far the trend is spreading nationwide.

To do so, we lifted key phrases from four of the most restrictive abortion bills that have either been enacted or considered recently and ran those terms through our Open States database, which surveys activity in all 50 state legislatures.

Restrictive abortion bills on the move in 2013

The results are shown in the maps above: We found more than 200 pieces of legislation introduced in 40 states, a clear illustration of how anti-abortion forces, stymied by a Democratic Senate and president in Washington, are having more success taking their fight to the states. You can toggle the map above to see two views: States with the largest number of bills introduced and states where bills restricting abortions have either been enacted or are awaiting governors’ signatures. Hover over a state to get an info box listing specific bills.

We pulled the data that we used to build these maps on July 2 and July 8, but we have updated Texas and North Carolina to reflect headline-making developments this week.

Caveat lector: While we think this is a useful exercise to illustrate the spread of efforts to restrict abortion, this is not meant to represent a comprehensive list of all abortion legislation being considered in the states. Rather, this is a status report on bills that include language similar to that in the four anti-abortion measures on which we based this survey.

Update July 14: It’s also true that some of the traffic reflects activity on both sides of the vigorous debate over this issue. An alert Arizona reader pointed out that some of the bills listed in her state have actually been introduced by pro-abortion rights Democrats, as you can confirm yourself by reading the text (available by clicking through the links in the state-by-state hover boxes).

The bills on which we based our survey have been enacted or appear close to enactment in:

    1. North Carolina: Both the state House and Senate have approved strict new operating standards for abortion clinics that critics of the legislation say will effectively limit the availability of abortions in the Tar Heel State. Adding to the controversy: Proponents of the bill tacked it onto an unrelated piece of legislation about motorcycle safety to whisk it towards enactment with minimal debate in the Senate.
    2. Texas:The Lone Star State’s Senate on Saturday sent Gov. Rick Perry a bill that would prohibit women past their 20th week of pregnancy from obtaining abortions. Perry supports the measure. So does former Sen. Rick Santorum, a rival of Perry’s for the 2012 GOP nomination and a potential competitor for the same honor in 2016. Santorum visited Austin to show his support on Thursday. The latest effort in Texas is identical to a bill halted last month, when state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, filibustered for 11 hours at the end of a special session.
    3. Wisconsin: A federal court earlier this week blocked enforcement of a Wisconsin abortion law signed earlier this year by another up-and-coming Republican star, Gov. Scott Walker. It would require women seeking abortions to have ultrasound treatments before the procedure and require that doctors performing the abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
    4. Arkansas: In May, another federal judge issued a stay delaying enforcement of a law, that would ban any abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy until she can rule on its constitutionality. Plaintiffs who are seeking the judge to make a summary judgment have until Thursday to file briefs. The Arkansas state legislature passed the law in March over the veto of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.

Our methodology captured bills that run the gamut from Maryland’s budget bill, which limits state funding for abortions, to a North Dakota bill that would bar any woman more than six weeks pregnant from getting an abortion and, according to Reuters, force the state’s only abortion clinic to close.

These are the phrases we entered into Open States to identify abortion-related legislation:

      • “requirements to perform abortion”
      • “limit abortion coverage”
      • “20 weeks”
      • “post-fertilization”
      • “active admitting privileges”
      • “abortion-inducing drugs”
      • “fetal heartbeat”
      • “gestational sac

How we created the map

From this data, we constructed a shapefile which would be readable by mapping software. The csv data was converted to a dBase (.dbf) file using the free, open source software suite Libre Office. Then we merged this dBase file with a shapefile of global countries and states (freely available for download at naturalearth.com) using another free, open source application–Quantum GIS. Quantum GIS (or QGIS) is a powerful and easy to use Geographic Information System (GIS), with a wide breadth of functionality. We used it to merge the Natural Earth shapefile with our data, using a common field (state abbreviation). We then exported this merged data as a new shapefile. Next, we used a third free, open source program — Tilemill from Mapbox. In Tilemill, we customized the map (colors, legend, tooltips, etc.) using the MSS language (similar to CSS, but used to modify Tilemill map elements such as borders and shapes, as opposed to html elements).Finally, we exported the map as an MBTiles file which could be read by Mapbox. We uploaded the file to Mapbox, customized it a bit further using html, css and javascript, then posted it online. This last step was the only service we paid for — Mapbox charges a monthly fee to host maps online. However, Tilemill has many export options other than MBTiles, meaning one could easily create similar maps in other formats, with a small decrease in functionality. MBTiles can also be viewed free offline, using the Mapbox ipad app.

Help us do better: We attempted to remove the bills from the list that contain some of the key phrases but do not actually place restrictions on abortion; it’s possible we missed some. If you see a bill that you think needs to be removed from the map, please let us know.

(Contributing: James Turk, Paul Tagliamonte, Caitlin Weber)

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