The Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday for the most significant abortion case in decades, Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstadt. The case challenges laws in Texas that impose stricter rules on abortion doctors and clinics. Proponents say these laws will make abortions safer; opponents argue the laws would impede people's access to abortions, by closing small clinics that cannot meet the regulations. Should the Supreme Court uphold the Lone Star State's laws, the decision will not only affect Texans who wish to get abortions, but would also protect similar legislation in other states, whether in force now, or passed in the future.
The regulations in Texas include the requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Officials began enforcing that particular law in November 2013. Then, in September and October 2014, officials briefly enforced a law that said abortion-providing clinics had to be equipped like surgical centers, but the Supreme Court issued an order temporarily blocking that mandate.
We've already covered the science showing that legal abortions are very safe—indeed, they're much safer than giving birth in the United States—and would not actually become appreciably safer under these Texas laws. As it turns out, there is also research on the experiences of women who sought abortions in the six to 12 months after the passage of the Texas legislation:
1. CLINICS CLOSED
In May 2013, 41 clinics in Texas provided abortions. Now, only 18 do.
2. ABORTIONS FELL AND THE PROCEDURE BECAME RISKIER
In the six months after the passage of the law, there was a 13 percent decrease in the abortion rate among Texans, according to a study by researchers at the University of Texas–Austin. Medical abortions, which are induced by a pill and are the safest variety, decreased by 70 percent, the study found. Second trimester abortions, which are slightly riskier than first-trimester ones, increased from 13.5 percent of all abortions to 13.9 percent.
3. WOMEN HAD A HARDER TIME GETTING ABORTIONS
In a study conducted between November 2013 and November 2014, UT–Austin researchers sought Texans (ages 18 or older) whose scheduled abortion appointments either were canceled, or who'd tried to make appointments for abortions at clinics that no longer provided them because of the new laws. The researchers found 23 women who were willing to talk to them. Here's what they learned:
- More than half of the study participants said they were confused about where to get an abortion. Five said the clinics they called didn't give them information about where to go instead.
- Eight women had to have their abortions a week later than they would have otherwise. The earlier abortions are performed, the safer and cheaper they are. In addition, Texas now bans most abortions past 20 weeks' gestation; delays bring people closer to that deadline.
- Two women did not get the abortions they wanted.
- The majority of the women said they had to spend more time and money getting an abortion than they would have otherwise. Women living in West Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley reported having to drive almost four hours each way to get an abortion. Six women had to pay for a night in a hotel room because the nearest abortion clinic was so far away.
- Five women reported they thought about inducing an abortion on their own, but none attempted this.
So what will happen if laws like Texas' are allowed to stand? It's always difficult to predict the exact effects of legislation, but the evidence suggests a ruling in favor of the state of Texas will make abortions harder to get and may make them slightly more dangerous, by delaying them and discouraging medical abortions.