As a new legal battle against House Bill 2 begins this week, a study released by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas tracked the impact of the law with interesting results, Slate reported.
In the aftermath of the omnibus abortion bill, almost half of the clinics providing abortion services in Texas were forced to close. Researchers expected to see a drop in abortions across the state that reflected this sudden decrease in providers. Instead, they found that reducing access to abortion in Texas isn’t enough to stop Texans from overcoming these obstacles to take control of their reproductive healthcare.
Abortions in Texas fell by 13 percent since the implementation of House Bill 2. This is a more pronounced change than the national decrease in number of abortions, but not nearly as large as expected due to HB 2. Other than the sheer determination of those seeking to terminate their pregnancies and the efficacy of support networks such as Fund Texas Women and abortion funds in the state, what do these numbers suggest about the state of reproductive health in Texas?
The researchers expected the numbers to follow certain expectations. One wrote,
If more clinics close, one might reasonably assume, the demand for abortion will also decline, either because wait times at the existing facilities are too long or because women will decide that an abortion isn’t worth the hassle or expense.
The author at Slate pointed out the flaws in this way of understanding abortion access in the state, which most likely also informed the masterminds behind the omnibus abortion bill:
[T]his thinking relies on the false belief that women enter into the abortion decision lightly, and that a few obstacles will deter them. Avoiding the expense and hassle of having a child when you don’t want one remains extremely motivating, more than many health care experts realized.
The researchers did find a shockingly large decrease in the number of medical abortions – a decrease of seventy percent. There could be many explanations for this, including the provisions in the bill that increased the number of visits required for the outpatient procedure from two to four. In light of such a cumbersome process, a slightly more expensive but less time-intensive surgical procedure may be the more workable option.
What’s more, as clinics become more and more spread out, people have to consider the cost of travel and lodging, as well as securing childcare, when saving up the money it will take to access abortion services. This can increase the time it takes to be able to get to a clinic, and as medical abortions are used early on in a pregnancy, it may leave people without a choice other than a surgical abortion.
The study also only took legal abortion procedures into account. There was no way it could include the increased use of the ulcer drug misoprostol, which is available on the black market in the U.S. and over the counter in Mexico, and can be used to induce a miscarriage. In the Rio Grande Valley, emergency room personnel were confused by a sudden increase in miscarriages, but abortion providers in the area recognized the evidence of self-induced abortions.
And this is what these statistics actually show: not a lack of barriers put in place by the law, but instead a tenacity among Texans who are seeking to end their pregnancies, and a refusal to let politicians control their choices. As the Slate article states:
Putting up obstacles to abortion doesn’t magically persuade women to joyously embrace their pregnancies. It only serves to raise the expense, put women through unnecessary stress, delay an abortion until later in the pregnancy, and push women to seek abortion drugs on the black market.
Once the Ambulatory Surgical Center provision has comes into effect, even more clinics will close, and the number of facilities offering abortion services will shrink to as few as six. Even if the clinics that survived the previous provisions were able to maintain the demand in Texas, there is simply no way that this small number will be able to do the same. This study shows what abortion providers and pro-choice activists already knew: legislation will not stop people from terminating their pregnancies – it will just make the process harder, more costly, and more dangerous.