Last week, NBCNews.com posted a story arguing that Texas’s pro-life law HB2 caused a significant increase in second-trimester abortions in Texas. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of second- trimester abortions in Texas increased by about 27 percent. The author argues that in the aftermath of HB2, which strengthened health standards for Texas abortion facilities, clinics closed and travel distances for women seeking abortions increased. As such, more Texas women were obtaining abortions later in pregnancy – when they are more expensive and when abortion poses greater health risks. This increase in second-trimester abortions has been reported by a number of other media outlets including Cosmopolitan and the Austin American-Statesman.
However, a closer look at the 2014 abortion data provides little evidence of a public health crisis in Texas. Additionally, some of the abortion data released by the Texas Department of State Health Services indicates that HB2 may have actually improved public health in some respects. For instance, the 2014 abortion data indicates that the number of abortions performed in Texas fell by 14 percent between 2013 and 2014. However, the incidence of abortion fell by 21 percent for Texas teenagers and by over 23 percent for Texas minors. Good research indicates that abortions performed on minor girls pose greater health risks than abortions performed on adult women – so by this measure HB2 might have actually improved public health.
Second, it is true that data from the Texas Department of State Health Services indicates that second-trimester abortions increased the year after HB2 took effect. However, as someone who has conducted academic research on abortion trends, I am wary about drawing conclusions from one year’s worth of abortion data. Furthermore, the 6,117 second-trimester abortions that were performed in Texas in 2014 are not a particularly high number for the state by historical standards. As recently as 2008, over 6,000 second-trimester abortions were performed in Texas. Furthermore, in 2005, 2006, and 2007 there were more second-trimester abortions in Texas than there were in 2014. During those years, the mainstream media were certainly not sounding complaints about a public health crisis.
Since 2011, Texas has taken the lead at enacting protective pro-life legislation. The state has excluded Planned Parenthood from the state women’s health care program, banned abortions after 20 weeks, and attempted to improve regulation of abortion facilities. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media have worked overtime to find evidence of a public health crisis. However, data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that abortions have continued their long-term decline and the state fertility rate has actually fallen. Furthermore, there is no evidence of an increase in unintended pregnancies.
As such, many on the left hoped the 2014 abortion data would give them evidence they needed. In fact, the ACLU even threatened legal action, claiming the Texas Department of State Health Services was withholding the data until the Supreme Court could issue its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. This was ironic considering the ACLU has not once criticized the CDC or any other state health department for failing to report abortion data in a timely manner. However, the pattern is the same. Plenty of media noise, but little evidence that pro-life policies are actually hurting the health of Texas women.