A new study shows the serious effect Texas' anti-abortion H.B. 2 law had on women's ability to access abortion care. The law saw the closure of at least 22 clinics across the state between 2013 and the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the law last year–SCOTUS ruled that H.B. 2 placed an "undue burden" on women.
H.B. 2 imposed a series of requirements on the state's clinics, including requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, for clinics to be re-designed as "ambulatory surgical centers," and provide 24-hour telephone consultation for patients.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association today by U.T. Austin's Texas Policy Evaluation Project. It examined counties across Texas without an abortion clinic and whether H.B. 2-induced closures meant that women had to travel significantly farther to find services.
The authors found a clear drop in recorded abortions in counties where it was much harder for women to access clinics following H.B. 2. In counties where closures meant women had to travel more than 100 miles to find a clinic, women had 50.3% fewer recorded abortions. In counties with no change in how far women had to travel for abortion clinics, there was a negligible drop in the abortion rate (1.3%).
"In 2012, 66,098 abortions were performed among Texas residents (97 out of state). In 2014, 53,882 abortions were performed among Texas residents (754 out of state)," the study says. "Of 254 counties, there were 41 facilities in 17 counties in 2012 and there were 21 facilities in 6 counties in 2014."
In counties where access to clinics did not see a significant change, the abortion rate remained stable, further evidence suggesting that clinic closures were a factor in reducing the number of abortions.
The trend of decreased abortion rates is reflected around the country–a Guttmacher Institute study released earlier this week found that abortions have declined to historic lows in 2013 and 2014. That study was cause for celebration from pro-choice groups and met with mixed reaction from civil liberties advocates. Pro-choice groups saw the numbers as anti-abortion legislation succeeding in restricting women's reproductive rights, but also the result of improved access to education and contraception helping prevent unwanted pregnancies.
That study also found that 90% of counties in the U.S. didn't have a clinic that provided abortions in 2014.
Texas Republicans presented H.B. 2 as a measure to improve the safety of abortion procedures (using requirements that have been deemed unnecessary by leading medical bodies). Today's study indicates that in practice, Texas' law and many others being pushed by conservative legislatures around the country (known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws), effectively restrict women's access to reproductive care and their right to an abortion.