Legislative debates over restricting access to abortion in the U.S. have been among the most hotly contested and thoroughly covered state government topics of recent years. But what of the women affected by those laws? A distinctive, data-driven investigation by the state government and data teams provided one answer: Thousands of women leave their home state each year to get abortions in another state, sometimes flying or driving long distances.
The story idea originated from one line in a spot story in June that caught the attention of state government team editor Tom Verdin. That story was about the ongoing effort by Missouri officials to close the state's sole abortion clinic and included that more Missouri women were getting abortions in Kansas than in Missouri. Verdin wondered how many other women across the U.S. must now leave their home state to get an abortion, with states passing ever-tougher restrictions and clinics closing. He turned to AP’s state government and data teams; Cassidy, a state government team reporter with data expertise and experience covering the abortion topic, and data team editor Meghan Hoyer, who routinely helps the AP’s beat teams.
The question was not easy to answer. For one, the relevant data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control was current only through 2015, a lifetime ago in the raging legislative debates over abortion. So, for more than two months, Cassidy went state-by-state to gather the most recent abortion data, including the geographic information – where it was available – about the residency of women who get abortions in another state. She worked closely with Hoyer, who oversaw the methodology and analysis.
In the end, they were able to determine that over the six-year period, 276,000 women had abortions out of state. And the share of non-resident women getting abortions had risen significantly in about a dozen states as conservative legislatures passed severe restrictions on the procedure and took actions that led dozens of clinics to close.
Cassidy also worked sources to find women who had left their home state for an abortion and persuade them to go on the record with their stories. She got three, allowing her to humanize the story behind the data.
One of the women became the centerpiece of the video. Beats team editor Alina Hartounian in Phoenix took the footage of that interview from reporter Gillian Flaccus in Oregon and paired it with footage taken at a New Mexico nonprofit by Albuquerque correspondent Susan Montoya Bryan, then produced the full video and used it to create the social plan that blew up on Twitter. The video alone received 1.4 million views and nearly 8,000 link clicks on Twitter, both extraordinary numbers for social media. New York top stories visual artist Francois Duckett contributed a graphics package that ended up receiving excellent play.
The project checked all the boxes for customer engagement and multi-formats. A unique dataset was released to AP customers two weeks before publication, allowing member publications to produce localized graphics and stories.
Lee Enterprises, a major AP customer, used the data to create a lookup tool for its member papers. The advance release of the data and story also paved the way for extraordinary play. The story ran on nearly 40 front pages, including with some of AP’s biggest print customers: The Detroit News, The Seattle Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, The Oregonian, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Tennessean, to name a few. Several major papers also used it as the centerpiece of their front page.
For putting the AP out front on one of the most contentious issues roiling American politics, Cassidy, Hoyer, Flaccus, Montoya Bryan, Hartounian and Duckett share AP’s Best of the Week award.