According to two new studies, early estimates that abortions in Texas fell by as much as 60% because of the state’s new fetal heartbeat law may have been greatly exaggerated, since most women seeking abortions either traveled out of state or ordered abortion-inducing drugs online.
The studies suggest that abortions in Texas fell by a figure closer to 10%. Despite the gap, pro-life activists are still happy to learn that there were that many babies being born instead of murdered.
Two teams of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin counted how many women were obtaining abortions through pills ordered online or by traveling out of state, according to reporting by the New York Times. The researchers found that even though Texas banned abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat could be detected — which is around six weeks of pregnancy — the restriction reduced abortions by significantly less than previously thought.
One of the studies discovered that an average of 1,391 women traveled to one of seven nearby states to obtain an abortion each month between September 2021, when the heartbeat law was enacted, and the end of 2021. According to the researchers, this was 12 times the usual number of Texas women who went out of state seeking an abortion prior to the law being passed.
Those seven states included New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and Colorado. Approximately 45% of those women traveled to Oklahoma for their abortion, and another 27% went to New Mexico. There are 44 open abortion clinics in those seven states, but only visits to 34 of them were counted in the study, meaning that it is likely even more Texans obtained abortions than is currently known.
“The law has not done anything to change people’s need for abortion care; it has shifted where people are getting their abortion,” lead researcher Kari White said in a statement to the Times.
White was surprised that the restrictions had not prevented more abortions, stating: “The numbers are way bigger than we expected. It’s pretty astounding.”
Besides traveling out of state, an average of 1,100 Texas women chose the option of ordering abortion-inducing drugs each month from Aid Access, a nonprofit service that provides telemedicine abortions to U.S. women from overseas doctors in Europe or pharmacists from India. This was more than three times the number who ordered abortion pills in an average month prior to the heartbeat law, according to a second study published in JAMA Network Open.
Abortion pill orders spiked from an average of 11 per day to 138 per day after the fetal heartbeat law went into effect, though now they have decreased to about 30.
The study only tracked orders of abortion-inducing drugs, and could not determine whether each request resulted in an abortion.
“The law is semi-effective; it will not stop all abortions,” said study author Abigail R.A. Aiken, the lead investigator for a research group studying self-managed abortions at the United States for the University of Texas at Austin.
Looking at the two studies together, their results suggest that even if states enact stricter abortion restrictions, there are ways in which some women will circumvent the law. Women with the economic means to travel will go elsewhere to kill their unwanted children. Nonprofit groups will act to assist poorer women in obtaining abortions.
No law on the issue will be perfect, even if the Supreme Court manages to overturn Roe v. Wade later this summer in their ruling on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. But pro-life activists see even a few protected children as a victory.
“There’s no hesitation from our side to declare this a victory for actually protecting pre-born children from elective abortion,” John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, said in a statement to the New York Times.
“We’re realists around here, so the best we can do is incentivize women to have their children,” he added.