Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. This case will determine the constitutionality of HB2 — which the Texas legislature passed in 2013. HB2 requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and requires physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Many analysts have said this is the most important abortion case that the Supreme Court has heard since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.
The Supreme Court’s Casey decision allowed states to regulate abortion as long as the regulations did not impose an undue burden on women seeking abortions. As such, most of the legal arguments against HB2 tried to make the case that HB2 is imposing an undue burden on Texas women. Opponents argue that law has resulted in the closure of a substantial number of abortion facilities and is causing some Texas women to travel considerably longer distances to have an abortion.
However, as my Lozier Institute colleague Chuck Donovan points out in an editorial which appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal, the number of abortion clinics, both in Texas and nationally, has been declining for a very long time. Furthermore, contrary to media reports, these clinic declines are not limited to conservative states with numerous pro-life laws. According to data from the the Abortion Care Network, for every three clinic closures in a conservative “red” state, there have been two closures in a liberal “blue” state.
Donovan offers two reasons for these abortion clinic closures. First, there is less demand for abortion. The abortion rate in the United States has been falling consistently since the early 1980s. Public opinion has shifted and Guttmacher Institute data indicates a higher percentage of women with unintended pregnancies are choosing to carry their pregnancy to term. Second, Planned Parenthood has aggressively increased their share of the abortion market — pushing out independent clinics. In 1993, fewer than 10 percent of abortions were done in Planned Parenthood facilities. By 2011 that figure had increased to 32 percent.
All in all, Donovan does a fine job making the case that the decline in the number of abortion facilities is due to a broad range of both market and policy forces. The Texas experience is far from unique.