It's been just over a year since Texas passed hideously severe (and not medically necessary) restrictions on abortion providers. In that time, over half of the clinics in the state have been forced to stop offering abortion services — however, the rate of abortion procedures in the state has only dropped 13 percent. Turns out, denying women easy access to reproductive health services doesn't magically make abortion disappear. Huh.
A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas' Policy Evaluation Project finds that there has been a 13 percent decline in the state's abortion rate since the implementation of House Bill 2 (HB2). A 13 percent decrease is more than the national average, but not dramatically more (data from the Guttmacher Institute, for instance, shows that the national abortion rate fell 13 percent between 2008-2011, likely due to an increase in contraception use). "In some ways, we were expecting a bigger decline," one of the report's authors told the Texas Tribune.
Being not-too-concerned with the larger context (of course), conservatives are quick to trumpet this as a triumph for Texas fetuses forever, all thanks to the hard-working GOP: "It's a great day in Texas when abortion clinics are closing and lives are being saved. We are reassured and encouraged to hear that 9,200 lives annually are being saved as a result of House Bill 2," state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano told the Houston Chronicle. State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, disagreed: "This just shows that we have reduced women's access to safe and legal abortion, but not decreased the need for it," she said. "I think we've endangered women."
In April 2013, 10,000 reproductive-age Texas women lived over 200 miles away from an abortion facility; due to HB2, that number has risen to 290,000. Many critics of HB2 have pointed out that it disproportionately affects low income and rural women, who may not be able to make the long trek to the clinic twice (thanks, mandatory 24-hour waiting period after in-person consultation!). For instance, in the Rio Grande Valley — one of the poorest regions in the nation — every single abortion clinic has been forced to close, meaning that residents of that area must drive a five-hour round trip, twice, in order to get legal and safe abortions. In that area, the abortion rate has dropped a whopping 21 percent in the past year.
At The Week, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux outlines the flawed thinking between laws that seek to reduce abortion by shuttering providers: "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." But data shows that limiting women's abortion access doesn't decrease the frequency of abortion: rather, it just makes it far more likely that women will resort to unsafe and illegal alternatives. Like using ulcer medicine to induce miscarriages, which is something women in Texas are beginning to resort to.
In spite of all the demonstrable evidence that forcing women to jump through unnecessary hoops in order to get abortions does not prevent abortion from happening, Texas lawmakers intend to continue merrily erecting more and more of said hoops, endangering hundreds of thousands of women on the way. In September, another HB2 provision will go into effect mandating that all abortions must take place in ambulatory surgical centers — another completely unnecessary demand, since a surgical abortion is among the safest medical procedures. As of now, only six Texas abortion providers meet this qualification, and most won't be able to afford the requisite renovations. There are over 5 million women of reproductive age in the state.
Six clinics for 5 million women. Come September, they will totally overwhelm the depleted system — and those who lack the resources to travel hundreds of miles or to pay for expensive later-term procedures after languishing on lengthy wait lists will be forced to turn to unsafe abortion alternatives.
How absolutely depraved and twisted does someone have to be to claim that these measures are meant to keep women safe?
Image via AP