Zero Evidence That More and More Women in Texas Are Performing Abortions on Themselves

by Michael J. New

How many women in Texas perform self-induced abortions? This week, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) released a study on this question. Their argument is that after the state bill known as HB 2 went into effect in 2013 — resulting in the closure of more than half of the abortion facilities in Texas — the number of self-induced abortions among Texas women has significantly increased. Citing the study as proof, many media outlets — including The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and Slate — are giving readers the impression that hundreds of thousands of Texas women have attempted to perform self-induced abortions in the wake of HB 2.

A little background: In the wake of the Kermit Gosnell trial, Texas took the lead in enacting legislation to protect women and their unborn children. HB 2, which was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry, requires that abortion facilities have the same health standards as ambulatory surgical centers and that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The public-health crisis that critics predicted when HB 2 was signed into law has not come to pass.

A closer look at TxPEP’s study, purporting to show HB 2’s harmful effects on women, reveals that it has numerous methodological shortcomings. In fact, it provides absolutely no credible evidence whatsoever that self-induced abortions have increased in Texas since HB 2 went into effect. The TxPEP study was based on online survey responses from nearly 800 Texas women ages 18 to 49. It asked them whether 1) they had ever attempted to self-induce an abortion and 2) whether they thought their best friend had ever attempted to self-induce an abortion. It used these findings from this one survey to predict the incidence of self-induced abortion among all Texas women of reproductive age. 

There are numerous methodological problems with this study:

It is difficult to draw generalizations about a vast population — Texas has almost 30 million people — from one online survey that had fewer than 800 respondents.

The study asked women whether they had ever attempted to self-induce an abortion. It did not ask whether they had attempted to self-induced an abortion after HB 2 took effect. As such, it provides no evidence that self-induced abortions have increased since HB 2 took effect in 2013.

Even though many abortion facilities in Texas have closed since 2013, there are many cities in Texas where abortion remains available. That said, the study provides little evidence that women who live in areas with limited access to abortion were more likely to attempt a self-induced abortion.

Women who legally obtained medical abortions by taking the RU-486 pill under medical supervision might have misunderstood the survey question and reported that they self-induced an abortion.

Overall, the public-health crisis that critics predicted when HB 2 was signed into law has not come to pass. Abortion numbers have fallen by 13 percent in the year since HB 2 went into effect. Additionally, preliminary data from the Texas Department of State Health Services indicate that abortions have fallen another 15 percent in 2014. The Texas birth rate has also been falling, so there is no evidence that HB 2 has resulted in an increase in the rate of unintended pregnancies. Pro-lifers should not be misled by this shoddy study; they should continue their efforts to advocate in every state for commonsense legislation that is similar to HB2 in Texas.

— Michael J. New is a visiting associate professor at Ave Maria University, a faculty research fellow at the Stein Center for Social Research, and an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.

Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 2 into law. In fact, it was Governor Rick Perry.