The XX Factor

At Least 100,000 Women Have Attempted Self-Induced Abortions in Texas

Wendy Davis speaks in Houston in November 2014.

Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images

Texas is giving us a vision of what our dystopian future might look like under a defanged Roe v. Wade. The state’s onerous HB2 anti-abortion law, over which Wendy Davis staged her famous filibuster, has contributed to the closure of 23 abortion clinics since it was introduced in 2013. As a result, wait times for abortion appointments with the state’s remaining 18 providers have spiked, rising to 20 days in some cities.

A new paper from the University of Texas’ Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) predicts that the law will escalate the incidence of self-induced abortions across the state, too. TxPEP’s 2012 study on the subject revealed that 7 percent of abortion-seeking patients in Texas had attempted to end their own pregnancies before coming to the clinic, compared to less than 2 percent in the country at large in 2008. The study released today shows that between 1.7 and 4.1 percent of all Texas women aged 18 to 49 have tried to induce an abortion at home. In other words, between 100,000 and 240,000 women in Texas have attempted to terminate a pregnancy by using herbs, teas, vitamins, caffeine, alcohol, drugs, abdominal trauma, or a medical abortion pill (misoprostol) obtained on the black market or from a Mexican pharmacy.

Through interviews with patients who’ve tried to induce their own abortions, TxPEP found that most would have preferred a clinical abortion, but found it inaccessible because of financial barriers or lack of nearby facilities. Latina women living near the Mexican border and women who, due to cost or clinic proximity, had a hard time getting any reproductive health care at all, including Pap smears and contraception, reported abortion self-induction at significantly higher rates.

This doesn’t bode well for the future impact of HB2. Increased wait times at Texas’ dwindling abortion-providing clinics will mean more second-trimester abortions—a grim prospect for everyone. And diminished access to clinics will push many women to risk bodily harm and terminate their own pregnancies rather than spend the time and money traveling across the state to find a doctor’s help.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to review HB2’s constitutionality, and its decision could determine the future efficacy of Roe v. Wade. In the short term, if the court upholds the law, at least eight more Texas clinics stand to close, which will make matters much worse for women’s health in the state. TxPEP cites a survey from 2004 that found that, around the world, legal barriers to abortion are followed by a rise in unsafe abortions, but no decrease in the overall abortion rate. If the Supreme Court affirms HB2, Texas is likely to see the same results—and the rest of the country is likely to follow.