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How many women live in states with abortion bans? Fact-checking Vice President Harris

Kamala Harris gestures behind a podium.
Susan Walsh
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks before President Joe Biden at an event on the campus of George Mason University in Manassas, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, to campaign for abortion rights, a top issue for Democrats in the upcoming presidential election.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

Vice President Kamala Harris launched a national tour to promote the Biden administration’s commitment to abortion rights in Wisconsin, where abortion was effectively banned for 15 months under a 19th century law before a judge restored laws that allow abortions up to 20 weeks.

In her speech in Big Bend, Harris attacked former President Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, for bragging about appointing three of the justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court precedent that enshrined abortion access nationally until the court overturned it in June 2022.

"This is, in fact, a health care crisis and there is nothing about this that is hypothetical," Harris told the crowd. "Today in America, 1 in 3 women of reproductive age live in a state with an abortion ban."

With abortion as a top election issue, we wanted to check out the statistic.

Harris’ claim was similar to a White House fact sheet that said "more than 23 million women of reproductive age — one in three — live in one of the 18 states with an abortion ban currently in effect."

This includes 14 states where women cannot get abortions at any point in pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Two other states — Georgia and South Carolina — ban abortions past six weeks, when most women don’t yet know they are pregnant and haven’t had a chance to see a doctor.

Two additional states, Nebraska and North Carolina, outlaw abortion after 12 weeks, around the earliest point in pregnancy when women can find out the fetus’ sex and if it carries certain chromosomal abnormalities, including Down syndrome, Trisomy 13 and Edwards syndrome.

States that ban abortion at six weeks or less can be reasonably considered to have "bans" on the books, experts told PolitiFact, as they leave residents with minimal access to an abortion. Others said laws could be categorized as a ban if they apply at conception or at any other point in pregnancy.

Harris’ statistic is close even when counting just the populations of states with abortion bans at six weeks or less.

How many U.S. women of reproductive age live in states with abortion bans

Women who are considered to be of "reproductive age" in the United States are typically 15 to 44 years old. Some researchers and government organizations use a range of 15 to 49 years old to better reflect the increasing number of women having children later in life.

There are about 65 million women in the U.S. ages 15 to 44, and about 75 million 15 to 49, 2022 Census data shows.

Harris’ office pointed PolitiFact to news reports that found about 21 million to 25 million women of childbearing age lived in states that banned abortion or posed more restrictions on it than before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, found in October 2022 that almost 22 million women ages 15 to 49 lived in states where abortion was "unavailable or severely restricted," amounting to about 29% of the total U.S. population of women in that age range. Guttmacher’s media office told PolitiFact that the number is likely higher today, given the passage of more restrictions.

The Associated Press found in June 2023 that more than 25 million women ages 15 to 44 live in states where the law makes abortions harder to get than they were before Roe was overturned. About 5.5 million more women, the report said, live in states where restrictions have been adopted but are on hold pending court challenges.

"Given the shifting landscape of abortion laws, many organizations have different definitions and categories for states’ abortion laws," said Laurie Sobel, women's health policy director at KFF.

Today, approximately 21.5 million women ages 15 to 49 live in the 14 states that totally ban abortion, and in the two states with six-week bans in effect, she said. That comes out to about 29% of women of childbearing age, or about 1 in 3.4.

Exceptions to these abortion laws generally fall into four categories: to prevent the mother’s death, when there is a risk to the pregnant woman’s health, when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, and when there is a lethal fetal anomaly. Although most state abortion bans and restrictions have some exceptions, PolitiFact and others have found that, in practice, few are granted.

Tallying how many states have abortion bans is complex, but Harris’ number sounded right and could be considered an undercount, said Mary Ziegler, an abortion historian and law professor at the University of California, Davis.

Some strict statewide abortion bans are tied up in litigation. A ban held up in court isn’t in effect, but it can still affect women by making physicians more hesitant to provide abortions, Ziegler said. In Florida, for example, a six-week abortion ban that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law is on hold while the state’s Supreme Court weighs whether Florida’s current 15-week ban is constitutional, causing uncertainty for both patients and doctors.

Our ruling

Harris said 1 in 3 women of reproductive age live in a state with an abortion ban.

About 21.5 million women of reproductive age — 15 to 49 — live in states that ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. That’s about 29% of U.S. women in this age group.

But even more women live in states where abortion is banned later in pregnancy. When adding in states that ban abortion after 12 or 15 weeks of pregnancy, the number of affected women grows to about 25 million, or about 40%.

We rate Harris’ claim True.

PolitiFact Senior Correspondent Louis Jacobson contributed to this report. 

Our Sources

Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in Florida reporting on misinformation with a focus on abortion and public health.