How We Talk When We Legislate on Abortion: A lexical analysis of ten severely restrictive states' statutes regulating abortion Open Access

Broere, Shannon (Fall 2021)

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Abortion discourse is often broken into simplified paradigms – choice and life, fetus and baby, mother and woman. Terms commonly used by either side of the public abortion debate find their way into court documents, legislative debates, and state regulations on abortion. The purpose of this study is to characterize the language used in ten states with severely restricted access according to NARAL Pro-Choice America and, by doing so, gain an understanding of how anti-choice language shapes legislation regulating abortion. This study will build on the existing literature by combining the methods of several pieces of previous literature (lexical analysis and abortion legislation itself). Ten states with severely restricted access to abortion from all geographic regions of the United States were selected. These state codes were then analyzed using a qualitative lexical analysis inquiry and a thematic analysis design. Four thousand one hundred twenty-two segments were auto-coded using the lexical search analysis before refining the data. Of these 4,122 unrefined auto-coded segments, 3,835 were anti-abortion, and 251 were pro-choice. Three major themes were present. First, state statutes regulating abortion contain medically inaccurate or disputed information. Second, pregnant people are identified and valued based on their gender as “female” or their ability to parent. Finally, voluntary informed consent is a tool to redirect people away from abortion care. Inclusion of medically inaccurate and disputed information – such as psychological effects of abortion, abortion reversal, and fetal pain – about abortion is harmful and perpetuates false ideas about abortion. The sole use of the term “mother” as a descriptor for a pregnant individual seeking an abortion places cisgender women into the box of motherhood. This language also excludes pregnant-capable groups, like transgender men and non-gender-binary individuals. Restrictive abortion regulations place a heavy burden on those seeking abortion and invade their privacy. Abortion providers, abortion advocates, and pro-choice legislators should continue to push for the revision and repeal of severely restrictive abortion laws and shift the discourse on abortion to be inclusive of all pregnant-capable people. 

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:

Literature Review 1


Background 6

Methods 9

Results 24

Discussion 34

Public Health Implications 41

Reference 53

Table of Tables:

Table 1: State Statute Length and Sources 11

Table 2: Select Excerpts from Codebook 14

Table 3: Auto-coded Segment Categories 17

Table 4: All Coded Segment Count by State, Refined 21

Table 5: Unrefined Code Matrix 24

Table 6: Auto-Coded Segment by Category 25

Table 7: State statutes contain medically inaccurate or disputed information 27

Table 8: State statutes where pregnant people are identified/valued based on their gender as female or ability to parent  31

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