State Records Prove Texas’ Recent Push To Regulate Abortion Clinics Was Totally Unnecessary

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) speaks during a rally against proposed abortion restrictions. (Credit: Jay Janner/AP)
State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) speaks during a rally against proposed abortion restrictions. (Credit: Jay Janner/AP)

Despite weeks of protests this summer, Texas lawmakers ultimately forced through a package of stringent abortion restrictions that will force the vast majority of the state’s abortion clinics to close. Several clinics have already been forced to shut down — and the anti-choice community has been celebrating the closures, claiming that the tighter regulations are necessary to safeguard patients visiting the state’s unsafe abortion clinics.

During the debate over the legislation, state officials testified to clarify that the abortion clinics in Texas were already very safe. But that didn’t dissuade anti-choice lawmakers from moving forward with the new restrictions anyway. Now, there’s even more evidence that the notion of rampantly unsafe abortion clinics in Texas is nothing but an anti-choice myth. The Texas Tribune conducted a thorough review into Texas’ records for dozens of abortion clinics in the years leading up to the passage of the new regulations, and that investigation “turned up little evidence to suggest that the facilities were putting patients in imminent danger.”

There weren’t any records of severe violations. The minor infractions discovered by the Department of State Health Services were swiftly corrected. The only three abortion doctors who were subject to action from the Texas Medical Board over the past five years had simply committed administrative errors, not medical ones. And Texas’ extremely low abortion-related death rate — currently 0.58 deaths per 100,000 abortions — is actually slighter lower than the national average of 0.7 deaths per 100,000 abortions.

Abortion opponents continue to insist that their original motivation for the legislation was rooted in patient safety, and the need for the stricter standards still exists. Emily Horne, a lobbyist for the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life, told the Texas Tribune that the minor infractions that state auditors discovered could still have led to women getting sick. “The clinics need to be safer,” she reiterated. “You can’t advocate for more abortion that is unsafe.”

But women’s health experts are increasingly exasperated with that claim, which has come up short on evidence time and time again. A recent GOP-led investigation into the safety of abortion clinics nationwide turned up similar results as the Tribune’s research — evidence that clinics across the country are already highly-regulated and extremely safe.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, one of the researchers who evaluates the impact of Texas’ reproductive health restrictions at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, has also been unable to turn up any proof that the state’s abortion clinics are actually unsafe. But that doesn’t mean Grossman hasn’t identified any safety issues with reproductive care in the state. Grossman warns that low-income women who don’t have access to clinics often turn to desperate measures to terminate a pregnancy — like self-inducing abortion or buying black market abortion drugs — and that’s a serious concern in the Lone Star State. Doctors expect that under the new law, increasing numbers of women will try to cross the border into Mexico to obtain illegal abortion care.

And ultimately, over-regulating abortion clinics impacts far more than access to abortion. Other types of reproductive health care have been thrown into question, too. As Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas are starting to close, women are being forced to find new doctors for their primary and preventative care. One woman who relies on Planned Parenthood for her cervical cancer screenings told KUT News this week that the nearest clinic is three hours away from where she lives, and already has a four-month wait to get an appointment.