New Study Predicts A Right-Wing Media Abortion Myth Could Be Putting More Texas Women At Risk

A recent Texas Policy Evaluation Project study highlights how Texas' medically unnecessary abortion restrictions that were passed into law under the false right-wing media guise of protecting women's health actually place them at risk. The study predicts that women are more likely to self-induce abortion “as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access” -- a particularly poignant consequence of restrictive abortion laws in a state where such restrictions have already shuttered at least half of Texas' clinics.

On November 13, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Whole Women's Health v. Cole, a challenge to HB2, a Texas law passed in 2013 requiring all abortion providers to employ doctors that have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers.” If not stricken down, the law could eventually shut down 75 percent of the state's clinics.

A November 17 study conducted by the University of Texas' Texas Policy Evaluation Project predicted that if the Supreme Court fails to overturn the law and clinic access is further restricted, “abortion self-induction will increase,” "[g]iven that the populations ... found to be most familiar with abortion self-induction are among those that have been most directly affected by the closure." The study also found that at least 100,000 and as many as 240,000 women between the ages of 18 and 49 in Texas have attempted to self-induce an abortion. Histories of self-induced abortions are most prevalent among women who reported facing significant obstacles to reproductive healthcare in the past, and among Latina women living in a rural area of Texas that has seen several clinic closures.

The very law that numerous media outlets believe could force some Texas women to self-induce abortion by severely restricting their access, was passed based on right-wing media myths. Texas lawmakers pushing for the 2013 legislation insisted that women's health clinics were unsafe and required increased regulation, capitalizing on a that myth originated by anti-choice activists. At the time, media helped give this claim oxygen: multiple Fox News figures claimed the law's restrictions were medically necessary and would make women safer, and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote that the law would simply make clinics “meet certain medical standards.” Today, Fox News is still peddling the GOP claim that these anti-choice restrictions are in the best interest of women's health, despite the fact that medical experts agree that the measure is based on medically inaccurate information and that these regulations harm women.  

The law forced the shutdown of at least half of the state's women's health clinics, and created a health crisis, leaving millions of women hundreds of miles away from accessing basic health services.

The New York Times points out that while Texas abortions are down 13 percent since the passage of HB2, the study's authors do not attribute the decline to the measure -- they point to international evidence that abortion restrictions have done nothing to reduce the incidence of abortion -- only to encourage unsafe abortions.

The authors suggest it's actually more likely that “Texas women either traveled out of state, continued the pregnancy, or induced an abortion using the drug Misoprostol (known by the brand name Cytotec) or through 'herbs or homeopathic remedies, getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills.'”  While misoprostol has been endorsed by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals as a harm reduction strategy to mitigate the dangers of self-induced abortion, “unfortunately, women often have inaccurate information on misoprostol use, [and] [d]rug quality is also a major concern, with a variety of misoprostol products on the market that do not meet international standards, are poorly stored or have simply expired.” 

For these reasons, the Texas case before the Court has striking implications for the women of the 10 additional states that have enacted similar requirements for hospital-admitting privileges, as well as the six other states that have passed laws “requiring hospital-grade facilities that mirror the Texas law.”

As Dr. Daniel Grossman, co-author of the study and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, told reporters, “This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB2 that pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk.”