The number of abortions in Texas decreased by about 13 percent statewide and 21 percent in the Lower Rio Grande Valley following the passage of strict abortion regulations that went into effect last November, according to a report that academic researchers released Wednesday.
The study, by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas, which is analyzing the effects of reproductive health-related laws passed during the last two legislative sessions, found that as the number of clinics that provide abortions declined, so did the number of abortions performed statewide. Researchers said the decline was not as large as expected but that the numbers could continue to drop as more restrictions take effect under the law this year. While supporters of the regulations in HB 2 said the new law is making the procedure safer for women, opponents said they worry that continued restrictions to access could lead to more unwanted pregnancies and self-induced abortions.
Legislators approved HB 2 in 2013, and it took effect last November. Among other restrictions, the law requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their clinics. That measure reduced the number of legal abortion providers in Texas from 42 before the law to 20 as of July 1, mainly because physicians had difficulty obtaining admitting privileges, according to the researchers. All facilities in the Rio Grande Valley and all but one in West Texas have shut down. Those closures, the report estimates, caused the number of women of reproductive age living more than 100 miles from an abortion provider to grow from about 400,000 to about 1.3 million.
HB 2 also put new restrictions on medical abortion, which is induced by swallowing a pill. Under the new law, women can only obtain medical abortions within seven weeks of becoming pregnant, down from nine weeks. It also requires most women to make four separate doctor's visits. The study found that those changes caused the percentage of medical abortions to decrease by 70 percent.
Joe Pojman, the executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, an anti-abortion group, had not yet read the report, but he argued that any decline in abortions resulted from several factors. Some clinics, he said, chose to close even though they were able to comply with HB 2 regulations. And laws approved in previous legislative sessions that require women to receive ultrasounds and counseling before an abortion procedure also contributed to the decline, he said.
--by Gilad Edelman with the Texas Tribune