As Texas Prepares To Tighten Rules For Abortion Clinics, Here’s A Look At How Safe They Already Are

Pro-choice Texans march from the state capitol protesting proposed abortion restrictions (Credit: CNN)

After weeks of contentious debate, the Texas legislature is poised to approve stringent new restrictions on abortion. The House has already passed the measure — which would ban abortions after 20 weeks and impose burdensome, unnecessary regulations on abortion providers — and the Senate is expected to follow suit sometime on Friday or early Saturday.

The new legislation would require abortion clinics to renovate their facilities to bring them in line with the standards for surgical centers. Republicans have repeatedly insisted that’s a necessary step to keep women safe. “It is not too much to require these clinics to have the same standards as 27 other states,” Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said on Thursday, referring to the growing number of states that have enacted similar laws targeting abortion clinics. Dewhurst claimed the passage of the proposed restrictions will be “a victory for improving women’s health care.”

Why are Republicans like Dewhurst so concerned with the current protocol in the state’s abortion clinics? Is there significant evidence that women are in danger when they visit one of the dozens of clinics that will likely be unable to comply with the new, tighter standards?

No. At least not according to state health officials, who have testified at the ongoing legislative hearings on the proposed anti-abortion legislation and confirmed that there are “no current safety concerns with abortion clinics in the state.”

In 2011, the most recent year with available data on the issue, there were 72,470 abortions reported in Texas. Of those procedures, about 22 percent occurred in facilities that are already classified as ambulatory surgical centers (i.e., places that would be able to continue operating under Texas’ new abortion restrictions). But the vast majority — 77 percent — were performed at abortion clinics that aren’t currently considered to be surgical centers (i.e., places that would be regulated out of existence if Texas’ proposed bill becomes law).

So about three-fourths of all abortions in Texas are performed in clinics that don’t meet Republicans’ standards. And, according to the data from the health department, there’s no evidence suggesting they are any more unsafe because of it. There were no reported deaths from abortion-related complications in 2011. There were no deaths in 2010 or 2009, either. In fact, just five abortion-related deaths have been reported in Texas since 2002. When taking into account the abortions performed in the state between 2002 and 2011, that’s a 0.0000801 percent mortality rate — not exactly a crisis of women’s health.

On the other hand, 116 women died of pregnancy-related complications in 2011 alone.

Texas health officials have also pointed out that, if Republicans are concerned about making sure abortion clinics are up to inspection, this legislation isn’t the best way to do it. Requiring abortion clinics to follow the standards for surgical centers will actually, in some ways, hold them to lesser standards. Abortion clinics are currently inspected every single year. Surgical centers are inspected every three to six.

There is one current issue with abortion care in Texas, however. After lawmakers imposed harsh restrictions on abortion a few years ago — including unnecessary requirements that women must wait 24 hours and undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion — the number of women going to clinics decreased. Women in the state, particularly low-income women, now struggle to navigate those complicated regulations and are forced to resort to unsafe options instead. Many women are now traveling to the Mexico border to buy herbal remedies on the black market to terminate their pregnancies, so-called “flea market abortions.”