In the months after Texas banned all but the earliest abortions in September, the number of legal abortions in the state fell by about half. But two new studies suggest the total number among Texas women fell by far less — around 10 percent — because of large increases in the number of Texans who traveled to a clinic in a nearby state or ordered abortion pills online.
Two groups of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin counted the number of women using these alternative options. They found that while the Texas law — which prohibits abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, or around six weeks — lowered the number of abortions, it did so much more modestly than earlier measurements suggested.
Combined, the data points to what may happen to abortion access if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade when it rules on another abortion law this summer. The data shows the limitations of laws restricting abortion. Yet it also shows how restrictions erect significant obstacles, which will cause some women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.
“The law has not done anything to change people’s need for abortion care; it has shifted where people are getting their abortion,” said Kari White, principal investigator of the university’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project and the lead researcher on the new out-of-state abortion study. She expressed surprise at how few abortions were prevented by such a sweeping set of restrictions: “The numbers are way bigger than we expected. It’s pretty astounding.”
who said the bill “ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion” when he signed it, declined to comment on the new numbers.
As state legislatures await a Supreme Court ruling and take stock of the Texas experience this year, several have passed new abortion restrictions, even if they conflict with Roe. On Thursday night, the Florida Legislature voted to ban most abortions after 15 weeks. Somewhere between 21 and 26 states are expected to ban or substantially restrict abortion if the Supreme Court permits it. On Monday, an effort by Senate Democrats to codify abortion rights into federal law failed to attract enough votes.
Each month in the period between September 2021, when the Texas law went into effect, and the end of the year, an average of 1,400 women went to one of seven nearby states, according to one of the new studies, released Sunday. That was 12 times as many as typically sought abortions out of state before the law.
The study included seven nearby states: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and Colorado. Nearly half of Texans who traveled went to Oklahoma, and a quarter to New Mexico. It counted Texans who visited 34 of 44 clinics, so the total was probably higher.
according to the second study, published last week in JAMA Network Open.
Before, there was an average of 11 requests a day. Immediately after, that spiked to 138 requests a day, and has leveled out at about 30. The study could not determine if all medication requests resulted in abortions.
“The law is semi-effective; it will not stop all abortions,” said Abigail R.A. Aiken, an author of the study, who teaches public affairs and leads a research group studying self-managed abortion at the University of Texas at Austin.
Those who were unable to get abortions are most likely to be poor, a variety of research has found. It’s expensive to travel to another state and pay for transportation, child care and lodging in addition to the procedure.
The new data covers the most common alternative methods to the in-state clinics, but does not include all Texans who got abortions.An unknown number of women most likely used other means, such as ordering pills from online pharmacies that have not published their sales numbers; crossing the border to Mexico to buy over-the-counter pills; traveling to additional states to get abortions; or using herbs or other methods for self-managing abortions.
If Roe is overturned, the same patterns may not hold nationwide, because abortion access would be even harder than it has been for Texans.