New data from the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project reveals just how drastically Texas’ anti-abortion law, House Bill 2, has limited access to abortion in the state, despite the United States Supreme Court striking down two of the law’s three major components.
Because the law prompted closure of 24 of the states’ 41 abortion providers, many women in the state were left hundreds of miles from clinics. TxPEP’s research shows that the state’s nearly 16 percent decrease in the number of abortions performed from 2012-2014 is likely related to those increased distances.
Throughout the court battle over Texas’ now gutted HB 2, much of the evidence relied on determining whether or not the law would place on undue burden on Texas women seeking an abortion. Because the law had only been on the books for a couple of years, it was impossible to know how much effect closing half the state’s abortion providers, as full implementation of the law would’ve done, would have on abortion access in the state. Whole Woman’s Health, the provider suing the state, claimed that placing greater distance between Texas women — especially those in West and South Texas — and clinics would greatly reduce women’s reproductive choices. Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, representing the state at the United States Supreme Court, argued that the clinics that would have remained in each of the state’s major metropolitan areas except El Paso would have been enough.
The Supreme Court ruled with the plaintiffs, striking down requirements that mandated all Texas abortion providers have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic at which they were performing an abortion and that all abortion clinics in the state be outfitted like many emergency rooms. TxPEP’s new study, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, back up the plaintiff’s claims.
In areas that saw more than a 100-mile increase in distance to the nearest abortion provider, the number of abortions performed dipped by more than 50 percent. Areas that saw a 50- to 99-mile jump saw a 36 percent decrease and those that saw a distance increase of between 25 and 50 miles saw abortions drop by more than 20 percent.
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“[The study] corroborates the findings of our previous qualitative research, where we heard from women that the long distances to the nearest clinic created significant financial and logistical barriers to care,” Dr. TxPEP's Daniel Grossman says.
Even in areas where clinics remained open, like DFW, abortions dropped by double digits. “In these metropolitan areas, the change in distance to the nearest facility was small, but there were still significant declines in abortion. We suspect these decreases were related more to the limited capacity at the remaining abortion clinics rather than distance changes,” TxPEP investigator Dr. Joseph Potter says.
In the wake of last summer’s Supreme Court decision, Whole Woman’s Health and other providers in the state vowed to re-open the clinics that closed. That hasn’t happened so far.
“People think that it’s simple, reopening the clinics,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Woman’s Health, told the Observer last year after the Supreme Court ruling. “But it’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of time. How long will it take us to rebuild the clinic infrastructure in the state? It’s going to take years.”