Self-Induced Abortion: Bringing Back a Texan Tradition

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Hundreds of thousands of Texans are self-inducing their abortions.

This was the data found by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project in a recently released report. Using a survey, TPEP found that 1.7% of the women surveyed had attempted to induce an abortion themselves, and 4.1% suspected or knew that close friends had done so. These results led TPEP to conclude that anywhere between 100,000 and 240,000 Texans have self induced abortions – a number that is likely to increase in the fallout of last week’s violent attack on a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs.

These statistics are saddening and upsetting, and reinforce a feeling that the political environment in Texas is taking Texans back to a time before abortion was legal, when doctors in emergency rooms faced a constant flow of women who were bleeding, infected, and dying from self-induced and illegal abortions. What’s more, the incredibly restrictive laws in Texas were what directly led to a young lawyer taking the case of a Texas woman all the way to the Supreme Court: Roe vs. Wade was a case from Texas. Our state has a long history of using legislative policy to dictate reproductive choice, and forcing Texans to choose self-inflicting abortion when no legal services are available.

As The Atlantic pointed out in their coverage of the survey, this is already the new reality for many Texans in rural areas and along the border:

West Texas’s Midland County, home to 151,000 people, is now 258 miles from the nearest abortion clinic, or about an nine-hour round-trip drive.

The findings in the survey support what providers and doctors, especially along the border, have already seen. Since the passage of HB 2, demand for the over the counter ulcer drug, misoprostol, have increased, as have the numbers of women presenting in emergency rooms with miscarriages.

This is not unique to Texas, though it is a reality many sought to leave behind with the legalization of abortion services in the seventies through Roe v. Wade. Around the world, 21 million women self-induce abortion, and these acts of desperation result in 13% of the incidences of maternal mortality.

Beyond the statistics and the studies, this news from the TPEP was not surprising to me on a personal level.

Last year, one of my interns approached me with a sudden interest in the laws surrounding abortion access in Texas. I was more than happy to rattle off all of the facts that I had become desensitized to in the months since the passage of House Bill 2. I listed the provisions of the law, explained the impact, and told him about the dwindling number of clinics in Texas and further implementation of the law that threatened to close even more.

A little while after our conversation, I walked over to his desk and asked why he was so interested. I thought that maybe he had become interested in working on reproductive health policy, and I was happy to connect him with opportunities in that field.

His answer was one I was not prepared for, though I should have been.

One of his friends from school was pregnant. She had already gone home to the valley for the summer break. She didn’t have $500 for a procedure, let alone the money and ability to travel hundreds of miles to access one. I went into something like auto-pilot, putting together a list of resources pulled from the organizations I support as an individual familiar with the reproductive justice community in Texas. But I had never shared these resources before with someone who truly needed them.

I shared NeedAbortion.org‘s map of existing providers and frequently asked questions, and a link to information about the Lilith Fund’s hotline. And then, I pointed him to resources from Women on Waves after I realized she might take another route. I asked him if his friend had mentioned a pill that you could get over the counter in Mexico, and he said she had already asked for his help finding it.

This is the new reality in Texas. The TPEP survey, while rightly shocking and upsetting to many, tells a story so many Texans already know.

When safe, legal abortion services are made effectively inaccessible, Texans will find a way to terminate their pregnancies – even if it comes with potentially dangerous risks, even if they might die. They always have. And our lawmakers, who value ideology and primary votes over the health of all Texans, have blood on their hands.

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About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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