On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2 was unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Since the law was passed in 2013, anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media alike have insisted that HB 2’s restrictions were necessary to protect women’s health.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) drew criticism for seemingly withholding its annual abortion statistics report for 2014 -- information that could have informed the court’s opinion about the impact of HB 2 on women’s health and access to care. In a June 15 letter, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas alleged that DSHS “appears to be concealing abortion statistics … for 2014, the first full year that Texas implemented portions of its controversial abortion regulations.” As Trisha Trigilio, ACLU of Texas staff attorney, wrote, “Rather than responding honestly and claiming a legal basis for withholding the 2014 statistical tables, it appears that your agency has chosen to hide the truth.”
On June 30, the Texas DSHS released these statistics and confirmed what reproductive rights advocates, researchers, and Texas women had been saying all along: HB 2 was an undue burden on abortion access and had nothing to do with women’s health.
According to MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, the key findings from the 2014 statistics showed a “sharp decline in abortions overall that was disproportionately experienced by Latinas, and the growing share and absolute number of second-trimester procedures.” As Trigilio wrote in a response for the ACLU of Texas:
We will leave it to statisticians to undertake deeper analyses of this data but at first glance the numbers demonstrate the devastating effect House Bill 2 had on the women of Texas. Given the overall drop in abortions – especially in vulnerable communities along the border – as well as the precipitous 70 percent drop in medication abortions, these numbers show that this law never had anything do with women’s health. It’s clear why lawmakers might have wanted to keep this information out of the public eye before the Supreme Court made its decision.
If HB 2 had been upheld, it would have required that abortion providers have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that these clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). Proponents of HB 2 claimed these restrictions were medically necessary to protect the health and safety of women during abortions. In particular, Texas lawmakers pushing for HB 2 in 2013 capitalized on anti-choice myths about abortion safety to insist that abortion providers needed greater regulation. These arguments were echoed by right-wing media outlets, which have waged a continued campaign of misinformation about HB 2 since.
For example, during a 2015 appearance on Shepard Smith Reporting, Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher amplified Texas lawmakers’ arguments that the requirements of HB 2 were intended to protect women from supposedly unsafe abortion procedures, without mentioning the ample evidence that abortion in Texas was already safe. Gallagher said Texas lawmakers “argue they're simply looking out for the well-being of women, saying better equipment and more staffing helps alleviate the dangers that are associated with abortion."
In reality, these restrictions are based on medically inaccurate information -- a conclusion underscored by the extremely in-depth, fact-based majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer. Breyer wrote that “each [restriction] places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.” Although the justices did not have access to Texas’ most recent abortion statistics, the release of the 2014 data affirms Breyer’s point and cuts through the right-wing media noise to end the myths that have long sustained HB 2.
For those studying the impact of anti-choice laws on Texas women, the findings in the 2014 abortion statistics were no surprise.
In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) argued that the additional barriers to abortion access created by HB 2 would pose “severe burdens in accessing reproductive healthcare.” Citing an earlier district court decision, NLIRH argued that “there is no question” HB 2 would negatively impact Latinas due to the majority Latino populations of the Texas counties most impacted by clinic closures.
An independent analysis of Texas’ 2014 data by TheTexas Observer confirmed these warnings and pointed out the comparative loss of access to abortion experience by Texas Latinas. As Alexa Garcia-Ditta reported, “In 2013, over 24,000 of Texans who got abortions were Hispanic; in 2014, that number decreased by 18 percent to under 20,000.” In comparison, she noted, there was “a 7.7 percent decrease among black Texans who got abortions” and a “6.7 percent drop among white Texans, after the law went into effect.”
Similarly, researchers for the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) had also previously warned about the risk of HB 2 delaying or in some cases preventing access to abortion care. In the January 2016 study, TxPEP interviewed women “who either had their abortion appointments cancelled when clinics closed or who sought care at closed clinics.” According to a news release about the study, researchers found that women’s health care was “delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether, from obtaining an abortion.”
In addition to proving the accessibility challenges created by HB 2, the 2014 statistics include an additional figure that thoroughly rebukes anti-choice arguments about abortion safety. As The Austin Chronicle’s Mary Tuma explained:
One stat that anti-abortion activists will surely continue to conveniently leave out of their ostensible quest for stringent abortion safety standards is the number of women that died while undergoing the medical procedure in 2014 – that figure, much like the number of facts anti-choice legislators used to defend HB 2, comes out to zero.