Yesterday, the New York Times published an article on The Upshot claiming that the Texas Heartbeat Act has had only a marginal effect on the number of abortions that Texas women have obtained. According to the most recent data, Texas reported a large decline in the in-state abortion rate after the law took effect in September.
The authors of the Times article analyze data from two separate studies and argue that the decline was largely offset by more Texas women obtaining chemical-abortion pills through the mail and more Texas women traveling to obtain an abortion in nearby states.
But a closer look at the Times article indicates there is much less to their claims than they suggest. First, even taking the data at face value, the increases in mail-order abortions and out-of-state abortions fail to totally offset the overall decline in the abortion rate. Even the Times admits that the heartbeat law is preventing hundreds of abortions every month and has saved thousands of lives since it took effect.
Meanwhile, both studies cited by the Times authors have methodological shortcomings. The authors obtained data on the increase in mail-order abortions from a research letter that appeared in JAMA Network Open in February. The research letter obtained its data from Aid Access, a nonprofit that sends chemical-abortion pills through the mail and allows women to obtain chemical abortions through online telemedicine. The data very well could be skewed by the fact that there was a steep short-term increase in requests for chemical-abortion pills immediately after the heartbeat law took effect. Requests for abortion pills significantly declined in subsequent weeks.
More important, the research letter reports data on the number of abortion pills requested through Aid Access. It does not provide data on the number of Texas women who obtained chemical abortions through Aid Access. Some women who requested abortion pills might have had second thoughts. Other women might have simply wanted to have abortion pills available in the event of a future unplanned pregnancy.
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Similarly, the Times obtained data on out-of-state abortions from a Texas Policy Evaluation Project analysis released on Sunday. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project obtained this data by contacting 34 abortion facilities in seven nearby states: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Overall, they estimate that since the heartbeat law took effect, the number of out-of-state abortions obtained by Texas women increased by about 1,250 per month.
However, the out-of-state abortion data is self-reported and has not been verified or released by a government agency. It hasn’t even gone through an outside peer-review process. And even taking the numbers at face value, the reported out-of-state monthly increase of 1,250 abortions is only a fraction of the in-state decline of 3,200 abortions reported by the Texas State Health and Human Services Commission for September 2021. As a result, the purported out-of-state increase fails to explain the large abortion decline that has taken place in the Lone Star State.
This Times article is the latest in a long line of attempts by supporters of legal abortion and allies in the media to portray pro-life efforts as ineffective. Indeed, nearly all of the coverage of the Texas Heartbeat Act has focused on Texas women obtaining abortions in other states. Meanwhile, most outlets have ignored the good work done by pro-life pregnancy-help centers in Texas since the law took effect. Data on the Texas birthrate in March and April of this year are likely to provide more accurate information about the effects of the law. Until then, media outlets are sure to continue promoting the misleading narrative that the law has failed to protect preborn children and has simply resulted in increases in mail-order abortions and out-of-state abortions.
LifeNews Note: Michael J. New is a Research Associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New