The number of abortions performed in Texas has declined greatly since the passage of SB8. But the number of Texans seeking abortions has remained the same, which is what abortion advocates have always said would be the case.
The number of women leaving Texas to obtain abortions has grown tenfold since lawmakers here banned the procedure after early pregnancy, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.
The findings, coupled with a huge uptick in online orders for abortion pills, suggest that the state’s widespread crackdown has not yet led to a large decline in procedures. While abortions at Texas clinics did fall by about half after the new restrictions took effect in September, many women still sought out to end their unwanted pregnancies through other, often more challenging paths.
The law “has not reduced the need for abortion care in Texas. Rather it has reduced in-state access,” said Dr. Kari White, lead investigator at the university’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project.
More than 5,500 Texans traveled to abortion clinics in six surrounding states between September and December of last year, according to the study. That’s nearly 1,400 trips per month, up from about 130 per month in the same period in 2019. The latest tally is likely an undercount, since some clinics did not participate and the study did not include trips to states farther from Texas.
Abortion rights advocates are already preparing for states to cut access in more than two dozen states across the South and Midwest, and providers are rushing to build out clinic space in northern and coastal states more friendly to abortion rights.
The new findings from Texas may be an early picture of the scramble to come for women in other states. The vast majority of trips out of Texas were to Oklahoma and New Mexico, where clinics are on average several hundred miles from most Texans. Oklahoma has its own “trigger” abortion ban in place if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision protecting the right to abortion until about 23 weeks of pregnancy.
Women interviewed in the study said they faced heavy obstacles in seeking out abortions since the law took effect, including delays at clinics in and out of Texas. One in four said they had visited crisis pregnancy centers, which often discourage women from getting abortions. Researchers interviewed 65 women in total.
See here for the TexPEP news release, and here for the full report. You can consider this a bookend to the other recent report about the increase in demand for abortion-inducing medication. It may seem like a bit of comfort that there are still options available, but one is much more time consuming and expensive, not to mention about to get more so as states like Oklahoma and Louisiana follow in Texas’ cursed footsteps, and the other is also heavily restricted under state law, with the great likelihood of further restrictions coming in future legislative sessions if Republicans remain in control. It’s just a matter of time before the emphasis changes from “ways to make abortion more illegal” to “ways to increase enforcement of anti-abortion laws and increase the penalties for violating them”. Do not think for a minute that locking up people who seek abortions, and the people who help them, is off the table. I guarantee you, it is not.
In the “I hate it when I’m right” department, later the same day that I wrote this, I saw this on Twitter:
A new Missouri bill would prohibit women leaving the state to get an abortion.
If this style of legislation is somehow found legal, it would have a huge impact in a post-Roe v Wade world.
— Kate Smith (@byKateSmith) 3:00 PM – 8 March 2022
Don’t ask how that could be legal, or how it could possibly be enforced. The terror of it is the point. Scare people into thinking they can be locked up for seeking a legal abortion elsewhere, and you’re done.
And on that cheery note, we have this update about the largely futile efforts so far to stop this travesty in the courts.
In its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court created a constitutional protection for abortion through viability, the point at which a fetus could likely survive outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks.
Since then, states, including Texas, have been stopped by the federal courts when they’ve tried to ban abortions before that point in pregnancy.
But Texas’ law has so far managed to evade a similar fate. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the law from going into effect before Sept. 1, instead allowing lawyers for the abortion providers to bring a pre-enforcement challenge, which was heard in November.
The U.S. Department of Justice also tried to challenge the law, and succeeded in getting it temporarily enjoined by a federal district judge. That ruling was swiftly overturned by a higher court and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually threw out the DOJ’s challenge.
In December, the Supreme Court also threw out the vast majority of the abortion providers’ legal challenge, allowing only one narrow aspect to proceed. That remaining challenge is slowly wending its way through the courts, but even if it is granted, it would not allow abortion providers to resume providing the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.
Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the abortion providers, said Thursday that their challenge in federal court “no longer stands a chance” of stopping these lawsuits from being filed.
“The Supreme Court greenlit this law’s unprecedented vigilante scheme and essentially said that federal courts are powerless to stop it,” he said. “There is no end in sight to this nightmare.”
Abortion providers have had more luck in Texas courts, where state District Judge David Peeples ruled in December that the law is unconstitutional. His judgment did not block lawsuits from being filed under the law, and is currently being appealed.
Immediately after Texas’ latest abortion restrictions went into effect Sept. 1, one San Antonio doctor, Alan Braid, announced in a Washington Post op-ed that he had provided an abortion after cardiac activity was detected.
“I fully understood that there could be legal consequences,” Braid wrote, “but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”
Three people sued Braid, including two disbarred attorneys who indicated they were more interested in seeing the law tested and getting the money than actually taking a stand against abortion.
Hearron, who is also representing Braid, said Thursday that they have filed a countersuit in federal court against the three claimants, seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional and the suits thrown out.
Beyond those initial three claims, no lawsuits have been brought against anyone for aiding or abetting in a prohibited abortion. But just last week, a group of anti-abortion lawyers asked a judge to allow them to depose the leaders of two abortion funding nonprofits to gather information for potential lawsuits.
So things are bad, and there’s no clear path to them being less bad. If you want something to happen at the federal level, we’re going to need to add at least two more Democratic Senators, which might give us enough to make changes to the filibuster, and we need to hold onto the House as well. If not, well, as the story says, there’s no end in sight.