Group ranks 50 states on gay, abortion rights

NEW YORK – New Mexico and New York share the top spot while Ohio and South Dakota are tied for last in a new state-by-state ranking compiled by three liberal advocacy groups that analyzes laws dealing with gay rights and reproductive rights.

Washington state came in at No. 4 in the top 10 most liberal states, as determined by the group.

Most efforts to gauge state positions on such socially divisive topics stick to one theme, but the rankings released Wednesday look at two hot-button issues in hopes of encouraging new alliances between gay-rights and abortion-rights groups.

Reactions to the report varied. Alexis Blizman, a New Mexico gay-rights activist, said her state deserved its position in part because of its “live-and-let-live attitude.” A conservative Republican legislator from South Dakota, Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, described the results as “a badge of honor.”

“I’d have been disappointed if we’d finished any higher than last,” he said.

The rankings were compiled by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and two abortion-rights groups, Ipas and the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective.

States were scored cumulatively based on 25 different laws, ranging from restrictions on abortion to recognition of same-sex partnerships to the availability of emergency contraception. Officials from the advocacy groups said the rankings call attention to sharp discrepancies among the states.

Washington state ranked in the top tier but was penalized by the coalition in a series of “filters” used by the groups, which include stances on or presence of same-sex marriage or adoption laws, fetal homicide laws and laws regarding equal rights for women.

“In this country, freedom depends on where we live,” said Leila Hessini, a policy adviser with Ipas. She said South Dakota’s recently passed abortion law, which would ban abortions even in cases of rape and incest if it goes into effect, “has more in common with Afghanistan than Oregon.”

A moderate South Dakota legislator, Democratic Rep. Pat Haley of Huron, said the ranking of his state was justified.

“I believe we are on the extreme,” he said in a telephone interview. “South Dakotans seem to pride themselves on independence, yet they have this Legislature that comes at them with bill after bill interfering in all different kinds of ways in how they live their lives.”

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