A year ago this month, Texas approved a package of harsh restrictions that impose new requirements on abortion clinics, restrict the use of the abortion pill, and ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Since then, the new legislation has wreaked havoc on reproductive health access in the state, and half of Texas’ clinics have been forced to shut down. That new landscape is having serious consequences for the women who may need to terminate a pregnancy, according to the first research to investigate women’s abortion options under the law.
Researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, an initiative that’s been tracking the impact of Texas’ restrictions on reproductive health for the past several years, found that the new abortion law is compromising women’s ability to exercise their right to choose. In their words, the legislation has been “associated with a decline in the in-state abortion rate and a marked decrease in the number of medical abortions.” Those findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the Contraception journal.
Specifically, the researchers tracked a 13 percent decline in the legal abortion rate in the Lone Star State. That’s steeper than the recent declines in the number of abortions observed across other states, suggesting that the decreased access to clinics is preventing some Texas women from being able to have the medical procedure. And it’s not hard to see why those Texans may be struggling. Thanks to the recent clinic closures, the number of women of reproductive age who live at least 200 miles away from an abortion clinic has skyrocketed by 2,800 percent — jumping from 10,000 women in 2013 to 290,000 women in 2014.
“There is no evidence that any of the provisions in this law has improved the safety of abortion in the state,” the lead researcher on the project, Daniel Grossman, noted in an statement. “They have just made it harder for women to access the services they want and need.”
Although Grossman’s results are sobering, the panel of conservative judges who allowed Texas’ new law to take effect weren’t particularly concerned about this potential reality. At the beginning of this year, during a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit hearing, one of those judges suggested that living 150 miles from an abortion clinic is no big deal if you drive fast. “Do you know how long that takes in Texas at 75 miles an hour?” Judge Edith Jones scoffed. “This is a peculiarly flat and not congested highway.”
For many of the women living in Texas, however, living more than 150 miles away from a clinic might as well be like living in a time before Roe v. Wade. Grossman’s previous research has confirmed that the state’s other restrictions on abortion, like its mandatory waiting period, already put a serious emotional and financial burden on the women who can’t necessarily afford to spend any extra time and money on their health care. Many of these women don’t have the means to take off time from work, arrange for childcare, pay for a hotel, or finance the long trip. Some of them don’t even have cars. And particularly for the impoverished immigrant women living on the border, leaving their communities is often impossible because it requires them to pass through security checkpoints that carry the risk of deportation.
The researchers were actually surprised that Texas’ legal abortion rate hasn’t dropped any further, considering the thousands of women living hours away from the nearest clinic. They credit that fact to the network of nonprofit groups and abortion funds in the state that are working to help finance women’s reproductive health care even in the wake of the impact of the law. And to put the decline in perspective, it’s important to remember that the new report focuses solely on legal abortions obtained in clinics, and doesn’t reflect the number of women who may be resorting to illegal means of ending a pregnancy — like the women who are traveling to Mexico to obtain abortion-inducing drugs on the black market.