Lawless Surveillance


Paper by Barry Friedman: “Here in the United States, policing agencies are engaging in mass collection of personal data, building a vast architecture of surveillance. License plate readers collect our location information. Mobile forensics data terminals suck in the contents of cell phones during traffic stops. CCTV maps our movements. Cheap storage means most of this is kept for long periods of time—sometimes into perpetuity. Artificial intelligence makes searching and mining the data a snap. For most of us whose data is collected, stored, and mined, there is no suspicion whatsoever of wrongdoing.

This growing network of surveillance is almost entirely unregulated. It is, in short, lawless. The Fourth Amendment touches almost none of it, either because what is captured occurs in public, and so is supposedly “knowingly exposed,” or because of doctrine that shields information collected from third parties. It is unregulated by statutes because legislative bodies—when they even know about these surveillance systems—see little profit in taking on the police.

In the face of growing concern over such surveillance, this Article argues there is a constitutional solution sitting in plain view. In virtually every other instance in which personal information is collected by the government, courts require that a sound regulatory scheme be in place before information collection occurs. The rulings on the mandatory nature of regulation are remarkably similar, no matter under which clause of the Constitution collection is challenged.

This Article excavates this enormous body of precedent and applies it to the problem of government mass data collection. It argues that before the government can engage in such surveillance, there must be a regulatory scheme in place. And by changing the default rule from allowing police to collect absent legislative prohibition, to banning collection until there is legislative action, legislatures will be compelled to act (or there will be no surveillance). The Article defines what a minimally-acceptable regulatory scheme for mass data collection must include, and shows how it can be grounded in the Constitution…(More)”.

California Governor Signs Sweeping Children’s Online Safety Bill


Article by Natasha Singer: “California will adopt a broad new approach to protecting children online after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Thursday that could transform how many social networks, games and other services treat minors.

Despite opposition from the tech industry, the State Legislature unanimously approved the bill at the end of August. It is the first state statute in the nation requiring online services likely to be used by youngsters to install wide-ranging safeguards for users under 18.

Among other things, the measure will require sites and apps to curb the risks that certain popular features — like allowing strangers to message one another — may pose to younger users. It will also require online services to turn on the highest privacy settings by default for children.

“We’re taking aggressive action in California to protect the health and well-being of our kids,” Governor Newsom said in a statement that heralded the new law as “bipartisan landmark legislation” aimed at protecting the well-being, data and privacy of children.

Called the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, the new legislation compels online services to take a proactive approach to safety — by designing their products and features from the outset with the “best interests” of young users in mind.

The California measure could apply to a wide range of popular digital products that people under 18 are likely to use: social networks, game platforms, connected toys, voice assistants and digital learning tools for schools. It could also affect children far beyond the state, prompting some services to introduce changes nationwide, rather than treat minors in California differently…(More)”.

Digital Privacy for Reproductive Choice in the Post-Roe Era


Paper by Aziz Z. Huq and Rebecca Wexler: “The overruling of Roe v. Wade unleashed a torrent of regulatory and punitive activity restricting lawful reproductive options. The turn to the expansive criminal law and new schemes of civil liability creates new, and quite different, concerns from the pre-Roe landscape a half-century, ago. Reproductive choice, and its nemesis, rests on information. For pregnant people, deciding on a choice of medical care entails a search for advice and services. Information is at a premium for them. Meanwhile, efforts to regulate abortion begin with clinic closings, but quickly will extend to civil actions and criminal indictments of patients, providers, and those who facilitate abortions. Like the pregnant themselves, criminal and civil enforcers depend on information. And in the contemporary context, the informational landscape, and hence access to counseling and services such as medication abortion, is largely digital. In an era when most people use search engines or social media to access information, the digital architecture and data retention policies of those platforms will determine not only whether the pregnant can access medically accurate advice but also whether the mere act of doing so places them in legal peril.

This Article offers the first comprehensive accounting of abortion-related digital privacy after the end of Roe. It demonstrates first that digital privacy for pregnant persons in the United States has suddenly become a tremendously fraught and complex question. It then maps the treacherous social, legal and economic terrain upon which firms, individuals, and states will make privacy related decisions. Building on this political economy, we develop a moral and economic argument to the effect that digital firms should maximize digital privacy for pregnant persons within the scope of the law, and should actively resist restrictionist states’ efforts to instrumentalize them into their war on reproductive choice. We then lay out precise, tangible steps that firms should take to enact this active resistance, explaining in particular a range of powerful yet legal options for firms to refuse cooperation with restrictionist criminal and civil investigations. Finally, we present an original, concrete and immediately actionable proposal for federal and state legislative intervention: a statutory evidentiary privilege to shield abortion-relevant data from restrictionist warrants, subpoenas, court orders, and judicial proceedings…(More)”

Can Privacy Nudges be Tailored to Individuals’ Decision Making and Personality Traits?


Paper by Logan Warberg, Alessandro Acquisti and Douglas Sicker: “While the effectiveness of nudges in influencing user behavior has been documented within the literature, most prior work in the privacy field has focused on ‘one-size-fits-all’ interventions. Recent behavioral research has identified the potential of tailoring nudges to users by leveraging individual differences in decision making and personality. We present the results of three online experiments aimed at investigating whether nudges tailored to various psychometric scales can influence participants’ disclosure choices. Each study adopted a difference-in-differences design, testing whether differences in disclosure rates for participants presented with a nudge were affected by differences along various psychometric variables. Study 1 used a hypothetical disclosure scenario to measure participants’ responses to a single nudge. Study 2 and its replication (Study 3) tested responses in real disclosure scenarios to two nudges. Across all studies, we failed to find significant effects robustly linking any of the measured psychometric variables to differences in disclosure rates. We describe our study design and results along with a discussion of the practicality of using decision making and personality traits to tailor privacy nudges…(More)”.

A South African City Says It’s Putting QR Codes On Informal Settlement Cabins To Help Services. But Residents And Privacy Experts Are Uncertain.


Article by Ray Mwareya: “Cape Town, South Africa’s second wealthiest city, is piloting a new plan for the 146,000 households in its informal settlements: QR-coding their homes.

City officials say the plan is to help residents get access to government services like welfare and provide an alternative to a formal street address so they can more easily get packages delivered or hail a taxi. But privacy experts warn that the city isn’t being clear about how the data will be stored or used, and the digital identification of poor Black residents could lead to retreading Cape Town’s ugly history of discrimination.

Cape Town’s government says it has marked 1,000 cabins in unofficial settlements with QR codes and made sure every individual’s information is checked, vetted, and saved by its corporate geographic information system.

Cape Town, South Africa’s second wealthiest city, is piloting a new plan for the 146,000 households in its informal settlements: QR-coding their homes.

City officials say the plan is to help residents get access to government services like welfare and provide an alternative to a formal street address so they can more easily get packages delivered or hail a taxi. But privacy experts warn that the city isn’t being clear about how the data will be stored or used, and the digital identification of poor Black residents could lead to retreading Cape Town’s ugly history of discrimination.

Cape Town’s government says it has marked 1,000 cabins in unofficial settlements with QR codes and made sure every individual’s information is checked, vetted, and saved by its corporate geographic information system…(More)”.

EU Court Expands Definition of Sensitive Data, Prompting Legal Concerns for Companies


Article by Catherine Stupp: “Companies will be under increased pressure after Europe’s top court ruled they must apply special protections to data that firms previously didn’t consider sensitive.

Under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, information about health, religion, political views and sexual orientation are considered sensitive. Companies generally aren’t allowed to process it unless they apply special safeguards.

The European Court of Justice on Aug. 1 determined that public officials in Lithuania had their sensitive data revealed because their spouses’ names were published online, which could indicate their sexual orientation. Experts say the implications will extend to other types of potentially sensitive information.

Data that might be used to infer a sensitive piece of information about a person is also sensitive, the court said. That could include unstructured data—which isn’t organized in databases and is therefore more difficult to search through and analyze—such as surveillance camera footage in a hospital that indicates a person was treated there, legal experts say. Records of a special airplane meal might reveal religious views.

The court ruling “raises a lot of practical complexities and a lot of difficulty in understanding if the data [organizations] have is sensitive or not,” said Dr. Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna, vice president for global privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Many companies with large data sets may not know they hold details that indirectly relate to sensitive information, privacy experts say. Identifying where that data is and deciding whether it could reveal personal details about an individual would be a huge undertaking, said Tobias Judin, head of the international section at the Norwegian data protection regulator.

“You can’t really comply with the law if your data set becomes so big that you don’t really know what’s in it,” Mr. Judin said.

The GDPR says companies can only process sensitive data in a few circumstances, such as if a person gives explicit consent for it to be used for a specified purpose.

Regulators have been grappling with the question of how to determine what is sensitive data. The Norwegian regulator last year fined gay-dating app Grindr LLC 65 million kroner, equivalent to roughly $6.7 million The regulator said the user data was sensitive because use of the app indicated their sexual orientation.

Grindr said it doesn’t require users to share that data. The company appealed in February. Mr. Judin said his office is reviewing material submitted by the company as part of its appeal. Spain’s regulator came to a different conclusion in January, and found that data Grindr shared for advertising purposes wasn’t sensitive….(More)”.

Legislating Data Loyalty


Paper by Woodrow Hartzog and NNeil M. Richards: “eil M. RichardsLawmakers looking to embolden privacy law have begun to consider imposing duties of loyalty on organizations trusted with people’s data and online experiences. The idea behind loyalty is simple: organizations should not process data or design technologies that conflict with the best interests of trusting parties. But the logistics and implementation of data loyalty need to be developed if the concept is going to be capable of moving privacy law beyond its “notice and consent” roots to confront people’s vulnerabilities in their relationship with powerful data collectors.

In this short Essay, we propose a model for legislating data loyalty. Our model takes advantage of loyalty’s strengths—it is well-established in our law, it is flexible, and it can accommodate conflicting values. Our Essay also explains how data loyalty can embolden our existing data privacy rules, address emergent dangers, solve privacy’s problems around consent and harm, and establish an antibetrayal ethos as America’s privacy identity.

We propose that lawmakers use a two-step process to (1) articulate a primary, general duty of loyalty, then (2) articulate “subsidiary” duties that are more specific and sensitive to context. Subsidiary duties regarding collection, personalization, gatekeeping, persuasion, and mediation would target the most opportunistic contexts for self-dealing and result in flexible open-ended duties combined with highly specific rules. In this way, a duty of data loyalty is not just appealing in theory—it can be effectively implemented in practice just like the other duties of loyalty our law has recognized for hundreds of years. Loyalty is thus not only flexible, but it is capable of breathing life into America’s historically tepid privacy frameworks…(More)”.

The Privacy Elasticity of Behavior: Conceptualization and Application


Paper by Inbal Dekel, Rachel Cummings, Ori Heffetz & Katrina Ligett: “We propose and initiate the study of privacy elasticity—the responsiveness of economic variables to small changes in the level of privacy given to participants in an economic system. Individuals rarely experience either full privacy or a complete lack of privacy; we propose to use differential privacy—a computer-science theory increasingly adopted by industry and government—as a standardized means of quantifying continuous privacy changes. The resulting privacy measure implies a privacy-elasticity notion that is portable and comparable across contexts. We demonstrate the feasibility of this approach by estimating the privacy elasticity of public-good contributions in a lab experiment…(More)”.

Roe’s overturn is tech’s privacy apocalypse


Scott Rosenberg at Axios: “America’s new abortion reality is turning tech firms’ data practices into an active field of conflict — a fight that privacy advocates have long predicted and company leaders have long feared.

Why it matters: A long legal siege in which abortion-banning states battle tech companies, abortion-friendly states and their own citizens to gather criminal evidence is now a near certainty.

  • The once-abstract privacy argument among policy experts has transformed overnight into a concrete real-world problem, superheated by partisan anger, affecting vast swaths of the U.S. population, with tangible and easily understood consequences.

Driving the news: Google announced Friday a new program to automatically delete the location data of users who visit “particularly personal” locations like “counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others.”

  • Google tracks the location of any user who turns on its “location services” — a choice that’s required to make many of its programs, like Google Search and Maps, more useful.
  • That tracking happens even when you’re logged into non-location-related Google services like YouTube, since Google long ago unified all its accounts.

Between the lines: Google’s move won cautious applause but left plenty of open concerns.

  • It’s not clear how, and how reliably, Google will identify the locations that trigger automatic data deletion.
  • The company will not delete search requests automatically — users who want to protect themselves will have to do so themselves.
  • A sudden gap in location data could itself be used as evidence in court…(More)”.

Selected Readings on the Intersection of Data, Abortion Care, and Women’s Health


By: Uma Kalkar, Salwa Mansuri, Andrew J. Zahuranec

As part of an ongoing effort to contribute to current topics in data, technology, and governance, The GovLab’s Selected Readings series provides an annotated and curated collection of recommended readings on themes such as open data, data collaboration, and civic technology.

In this edition, we reflect on the intersection between data, abortion, and women’s health following the United States Supreme Court ruling regarding Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which held that there was no constitutional right to abortion and decided that individual states have the authority to regulate access to abortion services. In the days before and since the decision, a large amount of literature has been produced both on the implications of this ruling for individuals’ data privacy and the effects on women’s social and economic lives. It is clear that, while opinions on access to abortion services are often influenced by deeply held attitudes about women’s bodily autonomy and when life begins, data has critical importance both as a potential source of risk and as a tool to understand the decision’s impact.

Below we curate some stories from news sources and academic papers on the role of data in abortion services as well as data-driven research by institutions into the effects of abortion. We hope this selection of readings provides a broader perspective on how data and women’s rights and health intersect.

As well, we urge that anyone seeking further information about abortion access visit www.ineedana.com via a secure site, and preferably via a VPN. For those looking for menstrual apps, Spot On by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America saves data locally on phones, does not provide information to third parties, and allows for anonymous accounts.

The readings are presented in alphabetical order.

***

Data & Privacy Concerns

Conti-Cook, Cynthia. “Surveilling the Digital Abortion Diary: A Preview of How Anti-Abortion Prosecutors Will Weaponize Commonly-Used Digital Devices As Criminal Evidence Against Pregnant People and Abortion Providers in a Post-Roe America.” University of Baltimore Law Review, forthcoming. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3666305

  • In this four-part article, Conti-Cook discusses the history of health data rights and the long-standing ways in which digital evidence produced by pregnant people has been used to prosecute their actions. She discusses how digital technologies help prosecutors lay charges against those seeking abortions and how they help “ the state see[k] control over [them] by virtue of their pregnancy status” by digitally surveilling them.
  • The author examines how “digital, biometric, and genetic surveillance” serves as a vehicle to “microtarget” historically oppressed communities” under a patriarchal and racist social structure.
  • She also discusses how online searches relating to pregnancy termination and abortion, location and tracking data, site history, wearable devices, and app data can be factored into risk assessment tools to assess social service outcomes and federal prosecutions.
  • Conti-Cook ends by reviewing digital hygiene strategies to stop the use of personal data against oneself and foster a more critical use of digital tools for reproductive and pregnancy-related health needs.

Diamant, Jeff, and Besheer Mohamed. “What the Data Says about Abortion in the U.S.” Pew Research Center, June 24, 2022. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/06/24/what-the-data-says-about-abortion-in-the-u-s-2

  • In the aftermath of the overturn of Roe v. Wade (1973), the Pew Research Center published a compilation of facts and statistics about abortion care in the United States obtained through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Guttmacher Institute.
  • The piece describes shifting trends pertaining to the number of legal abortions conducted each year in the United States since the 1970s, the abortion rate among women, the most common types of abortions, and the number of abortion providers over time. It describes, for example, how the procedure has generally declined at “a slow yet steady pace” since the early 1990s. It also notes that the number of providers has declined over time.

Paul, Kari. “Tech Firms under Pressure to Safeguard User Data as Abortion Prosecutions Loom.” The Guardian, June 25, 2022, sec. US news. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jun/25/tech-companies-health-data-security-abortion-prosecution

  • Paul writes about the concerns of abortion and civil rights activists on how data collected about individuals through apps and online searches might incriminate those seeking or providing abortion services. It notes how geo-location data used by tech companies can make “it easy for law enforcement officials to access incriminating data on location, internet searches, and communication history.”
  • While period tracking apps have received significant attention, the article notes that companies such as Meta, Uber, Lyft, Google, and Apple have yet to publicly announce how they would respond to law enforcement requests on abortion evidence.
  • The piece finally includes a recommendation from the digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation that companies preemptively prepare “for a future in which they are served with subpoenas and warrants seeking user data to prosecute abortion seekers and providers.” It suggests end-to-end encryption as a default, refraining from collecting location information, and allowing anonymous or pseudonymous access to apps.

Nguyen, Nicole, and Cordilia James. “How Period-Tracker Apps Treat Your Data, and What That Means If Roe v. Wade Is Overturned.” Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-period-tracker-apps-treat-your-data-and-what-that-means-if-roe-v-wade-is-overturned-11655561595

  • Nguyen and James provide an extensive analysis of the ways that period tracking apps track, collect, store, and share data about women’s fertility and menstrual cycle. Following Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), which overturned Roe v. Wade (1973), there has been significant public concern about the (re)use of the data these apps collect.
  • They detail different kinds of data that could be subpoenaed from period trackers and the terminology that users can search for in an app’s privacy policy to understand how their data will be used. It describes, for example, what it means to when Terms & Conditions outline how they will “encrypt” (that is, to scramble into an incoherent string of code), “share” or “sell” (data can be given to third parties such as advertisers), and respond to “requests” (companies may notify the user when a court or government data asks for data).
  • The article closes with an overview of the most-downloaded fertility apps — including Flo, Apple Health, Clue, FitBit, Glow, and Natural Cycles — and where they stand on data privacy.

Sherman, Jenna. “How Abortion Misinformation and Disinformation Spread Online.” Scientific American, June 24, 2022. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-abortion-misinformation-and-disinformation-spread-online/

  • In Scientific American, Sherman writes an opinion piece on the growth of online dis- and misinformation in the aftermath of Dobbs. She summarizes how, according to current data-driven research, much of the information people find online about abortion is not reliable and that the highest volume of online searches about abortion tends to be in those states with the most restricted access.
  • Despite much research on abortion, Sherman notes “a lack of access to quality information or care” online, especially for marginalized communities. She also summarizes the results of studies on social media and search engines. In one 2021 study, searches for “abortion pill” tended not to yield scientifically accurate and moderately accessible information.
  • Another study cited in the article found that half of the web pages surfaced by Google on abortion contained misinformation. This appears to be by design — with false information about “abortion pill reversal” and abortion practices generating large revenues for platforms like Facebook.

Data on the Impact of Abortion Access

Amador, Diego. “The Consequences of Abortion and Contraception Policies on Young Women’s Reproductive Choices, Schooling and Labor Supply.” Documento CEDE №2017–43 (2017). https://ssrn.com/abstract=2987367

  • Amador analyzes aggregate provider data from the Guttmacher Institute to assess the relationship between contraceptive use, abortion, schooling, and labor decisions of US women. The dataset follows a sample of women born between 1980 and 1984, with data from interviews starting in 1997 and ending in 2011.
  • A counterfactual model based on the data suggests that a perfectly enforced ban on abortions would raise the rate of standard contraceptive use for women 9.1%. The fraction of children born to single mothers would increase from 30% to 34% while the average amount of schooling after high school would decrease by 3.1%. The number of women with college degrees would drop by 1.8% age points. The estimated average loss in lifetime earnings for women who would have at least had one abortion was estimated at USD 39,172.
  • The author also assesses the impact that free contraception would have, suggesting a 15.7 decrease in pregnancies per 1000 women and an 11.6 reduction in abortions per 1000 women. Accumulated schooling after high school increased by an estimated 3%. An assessment of mandatory counseling laws found that the long-run effect of these laws on women ages 18 to 30 was a 10% decrease in abortion rates.
  • The author concludes that policies such as an abortion ban and free contraception have important effects on schooling and lifetime earnings but only a moderate impact on labor supply.

ANSIRH. “Introduction to the Turnaway Study.” ANSIRH, March 2020. https://www.ansirh.org/sites/default/files/publications/files/turnawaystudyannotatedbibliography.pdf

  • This fact sheet summarizes various analyses stemming from the Turnaway Study, the first study to rigorously examine the effects of receiving abortion services versus being denied access to them. The study is an initiative by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a program within the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. It examines 1,000 women seeking abortion from 30 facilities around the country, with interviews conducted over five years.
  • Studies conducted with the dataset find that the most common reason for women to seek an abortion was not being able to afford a child and/or not having a suitable partner/parent involved to assist with childrearing. Most women don’t feel pressured by counseling that occurs in clinics but find it less helpful when it is state-mandated. Half of all women report seeing anti-abortion protestors at clinics and greater contact with them tends to be more upsetting.
  • Studies also suggest no evidence that abortion causes negative mental health outcomes, although being denied an abortion is associated with elevated anxiety and stress and lower self-esteem. Those who receive an abortion experience “a mix of positive and negative emotions in the days after […] with relief predominating.” The intensity of the emotion diminishes over time but over 95% of women report “abortion was the right decision for them at all times over five years after.”
  • Carrying an unwanted pregnancy tended to be associated with worse outcomes for women’s physical health and socioeconomic status. Women denied abortion who later gave birth reported more chronic pain and rated their overall health as worse. Economic insecurity for women and their families increased almost four-fold. In terms of education, women who received abortions tended to have higher odds of having positive one-year plans while women denied abortions were no more or less likely to drop out of school.

Donohue, John J., and Steven D. Levitt. “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime Over the Last Two Decades.” The University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper №2019–75 (May 2017). https://ssrn.com/abstract=3391510

  • This paper primarily argues that legalizing abortion in the 1970s had positive consequences in the significant reduction of crime even two decades later, in the 1990s. In particular, the paper suggested an approximate 20% decrease in crime rates between 1997 and 2014. Not only is abortion legalization a crucial factor but perhaps one of the most crucial ones in the significant reduction in crime rates (see Donohue and Levitt, 2001).
  • A particularly crucial aspect of the data collected was that it took close to a decade for the “number of abortions performed to reach a steady-state” attributed to the variability and heterogeneity of state-level data due to the variability and dynamic nature of evolving abortion legislation and abortion reform.
  • Moreover, the effect of abortion on crime rates was only incrementally visible as “crime-aged cohorts” were gradually exposed to legalized abortion. Donohue and Levitt’s work supports the abortion-crime hypothesis — that increased access to abortion would decrease crime.

Frost, Jennifer J., Jennifer Mueller, and Zoe H. Pleasure. “Trends and Differentials in Receipt of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in the United States: Services Received and Sources of Care, 2006–2019.” The Guttmacher Institute, June 24, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1363/2021.33017

  • This report describes trends in reproductive and sexual health care across the United States over a 13-year period as told by the National Survey of Family Growth, the only national data source that contains detailed information on sexual and reproductive health. It finds that some 7 in 10 women of reproductive age (44 million people) make at least one medical visit for sexual and reproductive health care each year. However, disparities exist — Hispanic women are less likely to receive care than White women, and the uninsured are substantially less likely to receive care than privately insured women.
  • It further finds that publicly funded clinics were a critical source of care for young women, lower-income women, women of color, foreign-born women, women on Medicaid, and women without insurance.
  • The report also finds that the Affordable Care Act increased the number of women receiving contraceptive services by 8% among women with private providers. There was a complimentary drop among women receiving contraceptive care from publicly funded clinics.

Hill, J. Jackson IV. “The Need for a National Abortion Reporting Requirement: Why Both Sides Should Be in Support of Better Data.” Available at SSRN (May 2, 2014). https://ssrn.com/abstract=2306667.

  • Hill writes a paper urging organizations to improve the status of abortion reporting in the United States. Examining statistics collected by the Centers for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute, the author finds serious deficiencies, including a lack of voluntary reporting from states, conflicting requirements (or unenforced requirements) about what data is collected, and an absence of timely data.
  • After the passage of Roe, state legislatures attempted to mandate abortion reporting and monitoring; however, concerns over the safety of women’s choice, undue administrative hurdles, and issues over pervasive data collection made it difficult to impose a standardized, non-intrusive, and anonymized data collection practice.
  • Hill argues that these data gaps and paternalistic methods of collecting data have had consequences on the ability of policymakers to make decisions around abortion policy and undermine the public’s knowledge on the issue. He assesses the feasibility of federally regulated abortion data and potential other strategies for achieving reliable, uniform data. He proposes two avenues for a “comprehensive, uniform abortion data” set: a ‘command’ option that requires states to provide and collect abortion information for a federal database or a ‘bribe’ option that monetarily incentivizes states to provide this information.

Knowles Myers, Caitlin, and Morgan Welch. “What Can Economic Research Tell Us about the Effect of Abortion Access on Women’s Lives?” Brookings, November 30, 2021. https://www.brookings.edu/research/what-can-economic-research-tell-us-about-the-effect-of-abortion-access-on-womens-lives/

  • Knowles Myers and Welch write on what current economic research suggests about abortion access on women’s reproductive, social, and economic outcomes.
  • Comparing Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Washington, and the District of Columbia (states which repealed abortion bans prior to Roe) to other states, research suggests states that repealed abortion bans had between a 4–11% decline in births relative to the rest of the country — with effects particularly large for teens and women of color. Studies also suggest that abortion legalization reduced the number of teen mothers by 34% and reduced maternal mortality by 30–40%, with little impact on white women.
  • Additional studies indicate that abortion access has a large impact on the circumstances under which children are born. Various studies find that abortion legalization reduced the number of unwanted children, cases of neglect and abuse, and the number of children living in poverty. It also improved long-term outcomes by increasing the likelihood of child attendance in college.
  • Other studies find that abortion and pregnancy have substantial impact on women’s economic and social lives, with pregnancy frequently lowering women’s wages. This fact has substantial implications for “low-income mothers experiencing disruptive life events.” Based on various studies, the authors argue that “access to abortion could be pivotal to these women’s financial lives.”
  • While abortion is driven by views on women’s bodily autonomy and when life begins, the authors find a clear causal link between access to abortion and “whether, when, and under what circumstances women become mothers.” All studies suggest that access to abortion can have substantial implications on education, earnings, careers, and life outcomes. Restricting or eliminating access would diminish women’s personal and economic lives along with that of their families.

Maxmen, Amy. “Why Hundreds of Scientists Are Weighing in on a High-Stakes US Abortion Case.” Nature 599, no. 7884 (October 26, 2021): 187–89. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02834-7

  • A piece by Amy Maxmen for Nature summarizes a recent amicus brief filed by more than 800 scientists and several scientific organizations providing data-driven research into how abortion access is an important aspect of reproductive health.
  • It notes, for example, more than 40 studies suggesting that receiving an abortion does not harm a woman’s mental or physical health but that being denied an abortion can result in negative financial and health outcomes. It also cites a 2019 study of nearly 900 women who “who sought but were unable to get abortions reported higher rates of chronic headaches and joint pain five years later, compared with those who got an abortion,” while a similar 2017 study finds no similar physical or psychological effects.
  • A separate amicus brief submitted to the Court by about 550 public health and reproductive health researchers described how unwanted pregnancies can result in worse health outcomes. It also can disproportionately harm the physical, mental, and economic well-being of Black people according to a separate study.
  • An additional amicus brief filed by economists notes several studies that found that “abortion legalization in the 1970s helped to increase women’s educational attainment, participation in the labor force and earnings — especially for single Black women.”

Myers, Caitlin, and Ladd, Daniel. “Did parental involvement laws grow teeth? The effects of state restrictions on minors’ access to abortion.” Journal of Health Economics, 71, (2020): p.102302. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3029823

  • A paper by Caitlin Knowles Myers of Germany’s IZA Institute of Labor Economics and Daniel Ladd of the University of California, Irvine compiles data on the location of abortion providers and enforcement of parental involvement laws. The researchers seek to assess the impact of laws requiring parental approval for an abortion have on minors seeking abortions.
  • The paper concludes that parental involvement laws may have contributed to a modest decline in teen births (a 1.4% reduction) during the 1980s and 1990s but a 2.8% increase from 1993 to 2014 in women aged 15 to 18.
  • It further finds that laws with an avoidance distance (the distance minors have to travel to avoid parental involvement and can seek an abortion confidentially) have significant effects. In the 1980s, a parental involvement law with an avoidance distance of 100 miles decreased teen births by 1.48%. A parental involvement law with a 400-mile avoidance distance, about a day’s drive, increases the teen birth rate by 4.3%.

Popinchalk, Anna, Cynthia Beavin, and Jonathan Bearak. “The State of Global Abortion Data: An Overview and Call to Action.” BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health 48, no. 1 (January 1, 2022): 3–6. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsrh-2021-201109.

  • Popinchalf and colleagues at the Guttmacher Institute write in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health on the urgent need for data on abortion incidents and access to examine disparities in people’s ability to safely terminate a pregnancy.
  • The authors note that the three sources of data on abortion are official statistics, surveys of women, and scientific studies. However, stigmatization and varying legal access undermine the quality of this data and can lead to substantial under-reporting. Even in high-income countries, there can be significant variation in the frequency with which data is published. This variation in quality and availability exacerbates inequities by limiting the number of experiences that can be studied.
  • The authors argue that data availability and quality of abortion care can be improved by investing in country-level surveys and scientific studies. It also argues for reducing stigma through community and provider messaging as it can hinder the accuracy and completeness of datasets.

Tierney, Katherine I. “Abortion Underreporting in Add Health: Findings and Implications.” Population Research and Policy Review 38, no. 3 (June 1, 2019): 417–28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-019-09511-8

  • Tierney notes that there is substantial evidence that abortion is significantly underreported in the United States, especially among Black women and those in lower socioeconomic classes.
  • She supplements this review with her own evaluation of the abortion data in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), finding that the dataset captures only 35% of expected abortions. Examining data from 1994–1995, 1996, 2001–2002, and 2008–2009, she found severe abortion underreporting; however, there were no significant differences between race/ethnicity, age, or time of abortion and underreporting.
  • Tierney argues that this fact means that Add Health is no better than other surveys in collecting abortion data. She also argues that this underreporting, likely caused by stigma, has substantial implications for research and that researchers should be cautious with self-reports of abortion. Figures need to be evaluated, contextualized, and used with caution.