Study: Texas Heartbeat Act Cut Abortions by 50% in September

A woman holds an anti-abortion placard as supporters of President Donald Trump rally outside the Wilshire Federal Building on June 2, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The rally was billed as the first of several grassroots rallies in Los Angeles for the re-election of Trump in 2020. (Photo by David …
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A study released in October by the University of Texas at Austin revealed the number of abortions performed in Texas in September, when the state’s Heartbeat Act (SB 8) took effect, declined by 50 percent, compared to September of the previous year.

Using data on the total number of abortions performed at 19 of Texas’ 24 abortion facilities, which provide about 93% of all abortions in the state, the study’s researchers compared the percentage in the number of abortions that were performed in Texas between July and September 2021 to the same months in 2020.

The data showed a 3.0 percent increase from 4,432 abortions in July 2020 to 4,564 in July 2021, followed by a 28 percent jump from 4,198 abortions in August 2020 compared to 5,377 in August 2021.

The study asserts this increase in August of this year “likely reflects facilities’ expanded hours to accommodate more patients needing care in anticipation of SB8 going into effect.”

In September 2021, as the law was enacted, the study reports 2,164 abortions were performed compared to 4,313 abortions in September of the previous year, a 49.8 percent decrease.

“This is the most restrictive state-level abortion law in effect in the U.S., and it is expected to have a substantial impact on the number of facility-based abortions provided in Texas,” stated the report, which was apparently written from a perspective of opposition to the Heartbeat Act and seems to treat a decline in abortions as a negative outcome.

The conclusions presented stated:

The decrease in the number of abortions provided in Texas during the first 30 days that SB 8 was in effect was considerably larger than previously documented decreases that followed the implementation of other restrictions, which created widespread disruptions to abortion service delivery in Texas. This large decline indicates that SB 8’s very narrow criteria for providing in-state abortion care have excluded many pregnant people from obtaining abortions at Texas facilities.

The fact that many facilities maintained pre-SB 8 staffing levels in the face of reduced patient volume, coupled with the increased availability of financial assistance for abortion care, may have prevented even greater declines.

The report lamented that “the number of abortions provided at in-state facilities may decline further the longer SB 8 remains in effect,” and expressed concern for low-income women in Texas who will not be able to obtain abortions prior to evidence of a fetal heartbeat.

“Additionally, given the decreased client volume, facilities may need to cut staff or reduce clinic hours,” the study noted. “[T]his may lead to delays in appointment scheduling and more patients becoming ineligible for in-state abortion.”

Other states have passed “heartbeat” bills, but, once signed into law, abortion rights activists filed lawsuits challenging them. Subsequently, courts have blocked these laws, ruling they are unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions.

The Texas measure, however, contains a unique enforcement mechanism whereby any private citizen may file a civil lawsuit against an abortion provider or any other individual who “aids or abets” a “criminal abortion.”

The law’s civil enforcement mechanism limits actions taken to violations of the “heartbeat” ban, i.e., abortions sought after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The study’s authors predict some women “will be forced to continue their pregnancies, which is associated with adverse health and economic consequences for women and their children.”

Kari White, the study’s lead author, told the Texas Tribune the Heartbeat Act has likely led to women being more careful about tracking their pregnancies.

“If there is not any legal relief from the court that would enjoin SB 8, then I think we might expect even fewer people to be able to get abortions in Texas,” White said.

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