Since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 made abortion legal in the United States, the amount of women who attempt to terminate a pregnancy without the aid of a doctor has plummeted. Unfortunately, what has been the law of the land for over 40 years now is still constantly coming under attack from those who want to eliminate a woman’s right to choose. If anti-choice activists can’t reverse the Roe v. Wade ruling entirely, they will do everything in their power to make it as difficult as possible for a woman to receive an abortion.
A prime example of this can be found in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 2013 ruling referred to as HB2 which ruled in favor of requiring Texas health clinics to have hospital-level standards and admitting privileges. The result of this ruling was that over half of Texas health clinics providing abortions closed and, if the final portion of HB2 which is currently in the Supreme Court gets approved, the number of clinics will go down to just 10.
Critics of this ruling argue that shutting down the clinics is robbing women, many of whom are minorities and/or living in poverty, of access to health centers which are often their only means of obtaining health care. While this means they will have restricted access to the contraceptive care, STD and cancer screenings, and sex education provided by these health clinics, they will also have restricted access to abortions. If a woman in Texas is looking to receive an abortion, she will have to travel extraordinarily far to get to her closest open clinic, or she will have to find other ways.
These fears have been confirmed by a recent study conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP). They conducted a survey of a representative statewide sample of women aged 18-19. They found that 1.7% of women aged 18-49 reported attempting to end a pregnancy on their own, and this is likely a low estimate given the general trend of underreporting abortions. Additionally, 1.8% reported that they had a friend who definitely attempted it and 2.3% said they suspected a friend attempted it.
These percentages may seem small at first glance, but when adjusted for the Texas population, it comes out that between 100,000-240,000 women aged 18-49 have attempted to end a pregnancy without medical assistance.
In addition to these staggering statistics, the study revealed that the women most likely to attempt to end their pregnancy without a doctor were Latina women living in a county that borders Mexico and women who reported difficulties obtaining reproductive health care services. This is directly related to the closing of Texas health clinics. Because women have to travel farther and pay more to obtain birth control, pap smear tests, and abortions, they are more likely to try to do it on their own. Often this is in the form of going to Mexico to get misoprostol, a drug that terminates pregnancies.
In a press release, Dr. Danielle Grossman of TxPEP confirmed this by saying that “four primary reasons for self-induction included: financial constraints to travel to a clinic or to pay for the procedure, local clinic closures, recommendation from a close friend or family member to self-induce, or efforts to avoid the stigma or shame of going to an abortion clinic, especially if they had had prior abortions.” Additionally, “almost all of the women interviewed contacted or considered contacting a clinic at some point during their abortion process.” This means that for most women, had they had an easier time accessing a health clinic, they could have gone through with the abortion in a safe environment with a doctor.
The final phase of HB2 is currently being heard by the Supreme Court as Whole Women’s Health v. Cole. If the Court upholds the ruling of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas will be left with only 10 abortion clinics. There are 5.4 million women living in Texas; 10 clinics is simply not enough. The study suggests, and common sense would agree, that the more clinics that are shut down, the higher the number of women attempting abortions without medical assistance. Lawmakers may think that HB2 is making abortions safer, but it’s actually endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of women.
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