Turns out Texas' coronavirus abortion ban did real damage — just as experts warned
What happened in Texas is a glimpse at the likely future of abortion access in America.
A new study from the University of Texas finally quantifies what abortion advocates have argued all along: The coronavirus abortion ban in Texas drastically decreased who was able to receive abortion care in the state and dramatically increased the pressure on other states where the procedure remained legal.
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, several states sought to use the crisis as a way to ban abortion. Perhaps no state was more diligent about pursuing that option than Texas, which litigated the issue for weeks before finally allowing a return to a pre-pandemic level of access. Notably, even the pre-pandemic level of access in Texas was bad, as the state is quite hostile to abortion rights and restricts access in many ways.
The new study shows that Texas succeeded in making abortion much less available in the early months of the pandemic. When comparing April 2019 to April 2020, the study found a 38% drop in abortions, from 4608 in April 2019 to 2856 in April 2020. At the same time, there was a huge uptick in Texas residents seeking care at out-of-state facilities. In February 2020, 157 Texas residents sought abortions outside of the state. By April 2020, it was 947 people.
During the early months of the pandemic, when multiple states had abortion bans, one clinic in Wichita, Kansas, that performs abortions until 21.6 weeks saw nearly three times as many patients. A clinic in New Mexico reported a three- to four-fold increase in Texas patients, and clinics in Colorado and Nevada saw an increase in patients from that state as well.
Additionally, the study learned that people who were able to get abortions, either outside the state or in Texas after the ban lifted, had to delay their abortions past the 10-week mark. Ten weeks is the limit for receiving a medication abortion, and past that, people need a procedural abortion, which the study notes can be more costly.
What happened in Texas is a glimpse at the likely future of abortion access in America. When abortion access is limited in one state, other states bear the burden of absorbing the need. If Roe v. Wade is overturned or severely limited to where states like Texas can functionally ban all abortions, people don’t stop needing abortions. They may try to travel, if they can afford it, they may try to get an unsafe abortion, or they may be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, even when their health is at risk.
Worse, there are large swaths of the country where multiple adjacent states are hostile to abortion. Robin Marty, the author of A Post-Roe Handbook, argues that overturning Roe and leaving access decisions to the states would result in abortion being illegal everywhere but the West Coast, the Northeast, and “basically Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, and New Mexico.”
With that, it might not just be a matter of traveling to the state next door. It might be a matter of traveling across the country.
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