Today marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion nationwide. Roe has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women; abortion is now safer and occurs earlier in pregnancy than ever before. And yet, abortion remains the subject of extensive debate in state capitols and among national policymakers.

To help ensure that our national debate on abortion is guided by facts, the Guttmacher Institute has created a series of infographics that distills a wealth of information into five snapshots about abortion in the United States today.

At the most basic level, there are many myths about women who obtain abortions. While women who have abortions come from all backgrounds and walks of life, they typically tend to be in their 20s, are often economically disadvantaged and many already have one or more children. Nearly one out of every three American women will have an abortion by age 45.

Much of the recent news coverage on abortion has been dominated by state-level abortion restrictions — and with good reason. In 2012, 19 states enacted a total of 43 laws that sought to restrict access to abortion services. And although this is a sharp decrease from the record-breaking 92 abortion restrictions enacted in 2011, it is the second highest number of new abortion restrictions passed in any year since Guttmacher started tracking these statistics in 1985 (see here for a more detailed analysis).

Most of the new restrictions enacted in 2012 concerned limits on later abortion, coverage in health insurance exchanges or medication abortion, but they also included measures requiring that women seeking an abortion first undergo a mandatory — often medically unnecessary — ultrasound or imposing strict regulations on abortion providers. The cumulative effect of these restrictions is that women have to overcome ever more barriers before then can obtain legal and safe abortion care.

One tactic that has gained steam since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 is to restrict abortion coverage under private health insurance plans. These restrictions limit a woman’s ability to obtain a health care plan that provides for her full reproductive health care needs and treats abortion as separate from other health care services; 20 states now restrict abortion coverage available through state health insurance exchanges. These curbs on private insurance coverage of abortion come on top of long-standing restrictions that prohibit the use of federal dollars to pay for abortion care for poor women enrolled in Medicaid (except in extreme circumstances).

Abortion restrictions that aim to increase the cost of obtaining an abortion are having a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable women — especially those who are poor or low-income and women of color. Abortion has become increasingly concentrated among poor women, with more than four in 10 abortion patients now having incomes below the federal poverty line. Poor women often struggle to come up with the funds to pay for an abortion, thereby delaying their procedure and pushing it later into pregnancy when it’s more expensive and less safe. Poor women also often forego essential expenditures — like groceries or utility payments — to come up with the necessary funds.

While abortion restrictions exact a steep price on women who want to access abortion, they do nothing to alleviate the significant racial and ethnic disparities in reproductive health outcomes. Women of color have higher rates of unintended pregnancy, abortion and unplanned births than their white counterparts. These disparities in turn mirror disparities in a range of other health outcomes and broader social and economic inequities. But rather than pursuing an aggressive policy agenda to reduce such disparities, state legislatures instead remain focused on restricting access to reproductive health care.

As these infographics illustrate, there is much to reflect on as Roe turns 40. Consider that there are no women of reproductive age in the United States today who were of reproductive age prior to Roe. U.S. women of this age have never known a nation in which abortion was illegal and unsafe. Yet, keeping abortion legal and safe — and accessible to all women — is and must always remain an urgent national priority.

Today’s guest contribution was written by Sharon L. Camp, PhD, MA, President and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, the leading policy research organization in the field of sexual and reproductive health. Prior to joining Guttmacher, Dr. Camp was President and CEO of Women’s Capital Corporation, a start-up company responsible for the development and commercialization of Plan B emergency contraception. For many years the leading spokesperson in Washington, DC for international family planning programs, she was also largely responsible for bringing together the highly successful International Consortium for Emergency Contraception and served until April 1998 as its Coordinator. From 1975 to 1993, Dr. Camp was Senior Vice President of Population Action International, managing PAI’s professional staff involved in lobbying, media liaison, policy research and publications. She is a widely quoted authority on the national and international politics of contraception, a popular public speaker, and the author or co-author of more than 70 publications on family planning and related subjects, including articles on emergency contraception.

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