Clinic Access a Factor in Self-Induced Abortions, Study Finds

When Texas women can't get access to abortion clinics they end up inducing abortions on their own, according to a study issued by Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

The study, issued on Tuesday, found that women were willing to use other means — anything from obtaining abortion drugs on the black market to getting punched in the stomach — to end a pregnancy when they couldn't get to an abortion clinic in the state.

The report comes at an interesting time, just as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the case over the stringent Texas abortion law, House Bill 2. Proponents of the law, which requires doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic and requires clinics to upgrade to ambulatory surgical center standards, maintain that HB2 is merely aimed at ensuring women's health. However, opponents of the law have argued since it was passed in 2013 that HB2 is a part of a wave of laws passed by state legislatures across the country that have been deliberately aimed at cutting off access to abortion clinics.

And now there's a study that shows what can happen when women don't have access to abortion clinics. 

The methodology behind the study is pretty interesting. Go figure, but most women aren't exactly eager to admit to anything to do with abortions, so when 779 women filled out an online survey they were asked whether they had ever tried to induce their own abortions but they were also asked whether a friend had ever tried to end a pregnancy by herself. (Researchers explained that they took this approach because people are more likely to tell the truth about a friend doing something that is stigmatized, like trying to end her own pregnancy, than they are about themselves.) 

While about 1.7 percent of women answering the survey said they had tried to induce their own abortions, 4.1 percent said that they either knew or strongly suspected that a friend had ended a pregnancy without the help of a doctor. Using those the percentages from the study, researchers estimate that somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women between the ages of 18 to 49 have tried to induce abortions on their own. 

The women most prone to ending up dealing with their own abortions are likely to be Latina and living in a county near the Mexican border, which should come as no surprise. The other population most likely to be affected is just women who have had trouble getting access to other reproductive health services like birth control and pap smears, either because of cost or because they simply can't get to the clinics. 

Women have used all kinds of methods to try and stop unwanted pregnancies, according to the report. Most women participating in the study said that they had never heard of  misoprostol —  a drug commonly used to end abortions and sold in Mexican drugstores and on the black market — when asked directly about it, but most of the women with friends who have done their own home abortions said that this was the method that was used. Women also reported using herbs, homeopathic remedies, alcohol, drugs, taking hormone pills or getting hit in the stomach, according to the report. 

Even more interesting, only 14 percent of the women responding to the study said they thought these types of self-induced abortions should be illegal, while more than 30 percent of the respondents said that they were against abortion but understood why a woman would go this route to try. 

So that's where things stand now, according to the study. At the time that HB2 was passed in 2013 there were more than 40 clinics across Texas. Less than half of those clinics remain standing, and if the law is fully implemented, Texas could have as few as 10 clinics left. 
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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray