Texas Republicans Say Spiked Abortion Law Protected Women's Health. It Didn't.

A pro-abortion protester at the Texas Capital in 2012.EXPAND
A pro-abortion protester at the Texas Capital in 2012.
Anna Merlan

Even before Monday, there were two main points of the rationale Texas Republicans claimed in support of House Bill 2, the anti-abortion law largely struck down by the Supreme Court Monday morning. The first revolved around protecting women, and they pitched the second at ending abortion.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the decision "erodes States’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost." Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick lamented the ruling as a "devastating blow to women's health and safety," just before accusing Hillary Clinton of "celebrating the killing of babies in the womb." Senator Ted Cruz said "the Supreme Court sided with abortion extremists who care more about providing abortion-on-demand than they do protecting women’s health," while vowing that "this decision will not silence our fight to protect the most helpless and innocent among us."

So can we expect the rejection of the law to usher in a new era of unregulated abortions in Texas? There has been a lack of evidence from the medical and research communities that the two provisions of the Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court would do anything to make women safer. One provision requires any doctor providing abortions to have admitting privileges at an emergency room within 30 miles of the clinic and another requires that abortion clinics by outfitted as mini-hospitals. 

"Abortion is already an incredibly safe procedure and these restrictions will not make it any safer," Dr. Hal Lawrence, the CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said before the Supreme Court arguments in the case in March. "We have data and statistics to support this. The mortality rate is less than 1 in 100,000 for a pregnancy termination — much safer than actual childbirth. The risk of a major complication is similarly low."

When Justice Stephen Breyer asked Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller to point to one instance prior to the passage of HB 2 when a woman had complications due to abortion and could not get appropriate care in an emergency room, Keller couldn't point to one.

According to the Texas Department of safe health services, only one woman has died of complications related to an abortion since 2008. In 2013 alone, Texas Policy Evaluation Project lead researcher Daniel Grossman told us last month, there were 153 pregnancy-related deaths in the state. Carrying a baby to term, both Lawrence and Grossman say, is far more dangerous than getting a legal abortion, regardless of where that abortion takes place.

U.S. Representative Michael Burgess, a Republican whose district is centered in Denton County, said HB 2 "establish[ed] reasonable and essential protections for the health and safety of women," while invoking the name of Pennsylvania doctor Kermit Gosnell, whose post-birth murders of children would've been illegal in all 50 states. 

Procedures that result in far more complications than abortions, like colonoscopies and liposuctions, regularly take place in clinics that fail to meet the standards the state would've placed on abortion clinics.
When Justice Elena Kagan pressed Keller on that point in March, he responded that the bill was passed in the aftermath of the Gosnell scandal in Philadelphia. Kagan then pointed out Texas' outstanding record on abortion clinic inspection.

"I mean, Texas' own regulations actually have made abortion facilities such that that can never happen,  because you have continual inspections," she said. "So that was really not a problem in Texas, having a kind of rogue outfit there. Texas has taken actions to prevent that."

A previous Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, held that states could regulate abortion out of self interest, as long as they did not place a heavy burden on a significant fraction of women in that state who might seek an abortion. If HB 2 became fully effective, more than 750,000 Texas women would have found themselves more than 200 miles from the nearest Texas abortion provider. That's the sort of burden the Supreme Court rejected, and the kind of obstacle anti-abortion politicians wanted to construct to deter abortions. 


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