A comparative state policy analysis of the adoption of birth defects surveillance legislation

Amy Peterson Case, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States and are a major cause of lifetime disability. However, efforts to understand their causes have been hampered by a lack of population-specific data. During 1990–2004, 22 state legislatures responded to this need by proposing birth defects surveillance legislation (BDSL). The contrast between these states and those that did not pass BDSL provides an opportunity to better understand conditions associated with US public health policy diffusion. This study identifies key state-specific determinants that predict: (1) the introduction of birth defects surveillance legislation (BDSL) onto states' formal legislative agenda, and (2) the successful adoption of these laws. Secondary aims were to interpret these findings in a theoretically sound framework and to incorporate evidence from three analytical approaches. The study begins with a comparative case study of Texas and Oregon (states with divergent BDSL outcomes), including a review of historical documentation and content analysis of key informant interviews. After selecting and operationalizing explanatory variables suggested by the case study, Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) was applied to publically available data to describe important patterns of variation among 37 states. Results from logistic regression were compared to determine whether the two methods produced consistent findings. Themes emerging from the comparative case study included differing budgetary conditions and the significance of relationships within policy issue networks. However, the QCA and statistical analysis pointed to the importance of political parties and contrasting societal contexts. Notably, state policies that allow greater access to citizen-driven ballot initiatives were consistently associated with lower likelihood of introducing BDSL. Methodologically, these results indicate that a case study approach, while important for eliciting valuable context-specific detail, may fail to detect the influence of overarching, systemic variables, such as party competition. However, QCA and statistical analyses were limited by a lack of existing data to operationalize policy issue networks, and thus may have downplayed the impact of personal interactions. This study contributes to the field of health policy studies in three ways. First, it emphasizes the importance of collegial and consistent relationships among policy issue network members. Second, it calls attention to political party systems in predicting policy outcomes. Finally, a novel approach to interpreting state data in a theoretically significant manner (QCA) has been demonstrated.

Subject Area

Public health|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Case, Amy Peterson, "A comparative state policy analysis of the adoption of birth defects surveillance legislation" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3540441.