Abortion Statistics

Abortions Drop in Texas After Heartbeat Law

Advocates claim women just got abortions elsewhere

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research

Whenever pro-life legislation passes and goes into effect, abortion advocates are anxious to prove two things: 1) that the legislation doesn’t work; 2) that women have found a way around the law.

Both claims were made in a recent piece in the New York Times, “Most Women Denied Abortions by Texas Law Got Them Another Way” (3/6/22). Citing a few recent studies and analyses by abortion advocates, the Times claimed that while the number of abortions performed by Texas abortion clinics did go down with the implementation of their heartbeat bill on September 1, 2021, the number of women traveling out of state for abortions or managing their own abortions at home with pills bought over the internet nearly made up for those “lost” abortions.

There is reason to believe that some Texas women did, at least initially, look elsewhere for their abortions – to some degree because of everything the abortion industry did to prepare for such an eventuality. But the bottom line still appears to be that the law has been responsible for saving many lives.

Abortions drop significantly

Official stats are still months away, but a survey of Texas clinics found a big drop off in the number of abortions once SB8, the Texas “Heartbeat Bill” went into effect on September1, 2021.

The Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), a multidisciplinary abortion advocacy group set up by the University of Texas at Austin in 2011, surveyed 19 out of the state’s 24 abortion “providers” checking on abortions before and after the law went into effect.  In August 2021, those clinics reported 5,377 abortions. In the following month, they found less than half that many, 2,164, a steep drop off of almost 60%.

Some of the drop may have been due to an August rush to obtain abortions before the law took effect, but the 2,164 was still close to half of the 4,313 those clinics reported for September of 2020.

Any way you look at things, the number of abortions performed by clinics in Texas took a nosedive once the law became operative.

Going Elsewhere?

Abortion advocates claim that Texas women simply got their abortions elsewhere.

Researchers from the Guttmacher Institute fired the first salvo in November of 2021. Guttmacher claimed that their survey of 120 clinics showed clinics in neighboring states “overloaded” and that data from 11 other different states and the District of Columbia showed increases in the numbers of abortions provided to Texas residents (“New Evidence: Texas Residents Have Obtained abortions in at Least 12 States That Do Not Border Texas” https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2021/11/new-evidence-texas-residents-have-obtained-abortions-least-12-states-do-not-border)

Though considered as percentage increases, these sometimes appeared large (e.g., one clinic in a neighboring state said Texas residents obtaining abortions at gestations of 12 weeks or more sent from 13% to more than 25% in the two months after the law went into effect), the authors admitted that there survey did not include all U.S. clinics and was not representative. They also noted that the number of Texas residents they found aborting at any particular clinic was typically fewer than five (sometimes merely increasing from zero to one).

A lot of the publicity and the basis for the New York Times claim that a lot of Texas women simply traveled out of state for their abortions comes from a March 2022 TxPEP analysis titled “Out-of-State Travel for Abortion Following Implementation of Texas Senate Bill 8″ (http://sites.utexas.edu/txpep/files/2022/03/TxPEP-out-of-state-SB8.pdf).

In that analysis, TxPEP claimed that “SB8 has forced nearly 1,400 Texans out of state for abortion care each month.”  They calculated that number on the basis of surveys that TxPEP did of 34 (out of 44) open clinics in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Arizona – neighboring states bordering Texas or a few hundred miles away from its nearest border.

From September to December of 2019, TxPEP said that the clinics it contacted reported 514 abortions to women listing Texas as their residence. For the same period in 2021, those same clinics reported 5,574 abortions to Texas residents, about ten times as many.

This does not account for the full drop, and there are still some questions about this data, But it does appear to show that numbers of aborted minded women were not deterred by the law and simply traveled out of state to get their abortions.

Ordering pills for home abortions

Another part of the claim that the law was ineffective was that women simply turned to the internet and ordered abortion pills online. This way they could have the abortion drugs mailed and delivered to their homes so that they could self-induce these dangerous abortions there.

To the degree that this did happen, it was very much an orchestrated outcome.

Rebecca Gomperts is the Dutch abortion activist responsible for stunts promoting chemical abortion like the abortion ship,  drone, train, bus, etc., and for abortion hotlines in European and South American countries. Since 2005, Gomperts has run a website — womenonweb.org — where women could order abortion pills from all over the world.  

In 2018, distressed by state laws limiting women’s “access” to abortion in the U.S., she began a program called Aid Access selling abortion pills online to American women. When the Texas law went into effect, Gomperts made clear she never had any intention of complying with its prohibitions. 

“I don’t care about six weeks,” Gomperts told CBS News. “It’s another law that is not based on any scientific evidence, human rights, common sense,” she said. “I will provide [prescriptions for abortion pills] until 10 weeks of pregnancy like I’ve always done” (CBS News, 9/23/21).

Given that commitment and Gomperts having laid the groundwork (and done the publicity) in the years before, the sudden increases in online abortion pill orders from Texas that Gomperts and then the New York Times reported were hardly surprising.

Writing in a “research letter” published February 25, 2022 in JAMA Network Open, Gomperts, TxPEP researcher Abigail Aiken, and others claimed that Aid Access saw a surge in online requests for abortion pills in September of 2021. It went from around 10.8 requests per day in Texas before the law was enacted to 137.7 request per day for the first week of September.

This died back down over the next few weeks, but still remained at about 29.5 requests per month for the rest of the year from October 1 to December 31, 2021.

As usual, take abortion industry claims with a grain of salt

If one adds the number of Texas women Aid Access reports as requesting abortion pills online to those TxPEP reports as traveling out of state for abortions, as the New York Times does, it looks like much of the abortion drop in Texas after the Heartbeat law took effect is accounted for.

But this ignores a few critical admissions on the part of the abortion industry.

Up front, Aiken and Gomperts admit that “we cannot determine whether all requests resulted in abortions.”  Women may have ordered the pills and not taken them. They may have thought they were pregnant and turned out not to be. They may have changed their minds after taking mifepristone and looked into abortion pill reversal. The pills may have failed, prompting them to head to the ER for treatment of a failed “miscarriage” or they may have joined those women traveling out of state for a surgical procedure.

They may not have been pregnant at all, but simply ordered the pills peremptorily, as suggested by Gomperts and others, to have on hand for later if “needed” once the pills became harder to obtain.

The promotion of abortion pills by Gomperts at precisely the time the Biden administration’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was authorizing telemedical abortions (though notably NOT approving Aid Access onlne sales) may have also been a factor. This probably played a role in making some Texas women think, albeit incorrectly, that online pills were a safe, legitimate legal alternative to surgical abortions once many of the Texas clinic shut down or cut back services.

So exactly what trend there is, or how many abortions these orders represent, then, is unknown.

TxPEP surveyed only 34 of the 44 clinics in neighboring states and argued that this probably meant that the numbers of out of state abortions were higher. Perhaps. But this also probably means that TxPEP concentrated on the major industry players, the big clinics, the big chains, who likely had all the logistical and travel arrangements in place to take advantage of the situation. *

The scale and impact of this campaign should not be underestimated. TxPEPE specifically mentioned in its analysis that “about half of participants reported receiving financial assistance that covered some of their travel and abortion costs.”  The reason a lot of these women got abortions in neighboring states was because the industry specifically helped facilitate that outcome.

In other words, the jump in out of state abortions, and even the sudden surge in online orders for abortion pills, to the degree that there was one, was somewhat artificial, It was more the product of the successful implementation of a short term sales strategy rather than any organic trend.

The more accurate assessment will not come until years from now, when we can compare birth and abortion rates from the same basic time frame.

Ultimate impact yet to be seen

The number of abortions Texas clinics performed thankfully did drop drastically with the implementation of its Heartbeat law. That impact was probably somewhat blunted by deliberate efforts of the abortion industry to sell Texas women abortion pills online and send others out of state for surgical abortions.

However, there is reason to think that these countervailing trends will not be sustained. 

As more women become familiar with the actual safety record of the abortion pill, the high numbers of failures and complications and deaths associated with its use, as states get better at enforcing limits on the mailing and use of these dangerous pills, the less women will go that route.

Also, as women get used to the law, and become familiar with the fact that their babies do indeed have beating hearts as early as the 5th or 6th week of pregnancy (when the unborn child is three to four weeks old), fewer women will find the idea of traveling out of state for an abortion desirable. The same applies as more local abortion clinics close for lack of business or simply grow tired of sending their clients to clinics in other states, and as many of those states pass their own protective legislation and see their own clinics close. 

With September of 2021 only about six months in the rear view mirror, it will be some months yet before the babies that were scheduled to be aborted that month will be born. So it will be some time yet before we begin to have a full, clear record of the law’s impact.

But even with some women going out of state and others turning to online abortifacients, even the New York Times had to grant that the net effect of this legislation was that lives were saved.

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.

Thanks to those laws, those legislators, those hardworking pro-lifers offering practical, positive alternatives, hundreds, thousands of those “unwanted pregnancies” –children even pro-abortion studies tell us will be overwhelmingly welcomed by their mothers upon birth — will begin to be born in Texas in the next few months.

* Such a practice was not new, as the abortion industry had already been doing something similar for years within Texas and simply extended it past the borders (Jessica Ravitz, ” ‘I’m an abortion travel agent’ and other takes from Texas’ new desert,” CNN 3/2/16).

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