Texas has released data showing a marked drop in abortions at clinics in the state in the first month under the nation’s strictest abortion law, but that only tells part of the story.
A study released Friday showing a jump in requests from Texans for abortion pills by mail is helping complete the picture, as will learning more about the number of women who went to clinics outside the state, and how many who were unable to get abortions ended up giving birth.
“I think a big question is: What’s the new composition of how people are accessing abortion care?” said Abigail Aiken, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies reproductive health and who led the study looking at requests for abortion medication by mail.
Here’s a look at what the numbers that have been released so far do — and don’t — tell us:
What do the recently released numbers show?
Nearly 2,200 abortions were reported by Texas providers in September, the month the state’s new law took effect that bans the procedure once cardiac activity is detected, which is usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. There are no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
That’s a 60% drop from the month before.
Researchers note, though, that the number of abortions reported in August — over 5,400 — was higher than usual for that month, likely because clinics were rushing to get women in before the law took effect. So, they say, it’s also useful to compare September’s data to the same month a year earlier, which shows a drop of 51%.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which released the September figures this month, is releasing data on abortions on a monthly basis.
What did abortion providers expect?
Abortion providers had predicted that the law would bar at least 85% of abortions in Texas since, traditionally, most women were at least six weeks into their pregnancy when they had an abortion. And figures from the state show that in 2020, only about 15% of abortions were done at less than six weeks.
So why wasn’t there an even bigger drop in abortions in September?
Researchers say a combination of factors were apparently at play, including women scrambling to schedule appointments as soon as possible rather than when it might be most convenient.
“We see people coming to us before they’ve even done a pregnancy test, before they even know if they’re pregnant, because they’re so afraid that they might be pregnant and they will be denied an abortion,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Heath, which operates four abortion clinics in Texas.
Also, researchers say, the attention drawn to the new law resulted in an influx of funds to help women pay for out-of-state travel and medical fees.
“We don’t see as many people being pushed further into pregnancy because they’re trying to figure out how to pay for the abortion,” Hagstrom Miller said.