New Stats Show How Texas’ Unconstitutional Abortion Law Disproportionately Hurt Hispanic Women

Newly released state health department stats show that Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, parts of which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this week, led to a dramatic drop in Hispanic women who were able to access abortion.

The new finalized abortion stats for 2014, the first full year after one of the law’s strictest provisions went into effect, were released just days after the High Court in a 5-3 decision called Texas’ abortion regulations an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose that carried virtually no medical benefit for patients.

While such numbers have routinely been released in March (which, this year, just so happened to be around the time SCOTUS heard oral arguments in the challenge to Texas’ abortion law), there was an unexplained delay with the 2014 numbers. The ACLU of Texas, citing a department insider who claimed the state was deliberately withholding the stats, essentially accused DSHS of a department-wide coverup in a letter to DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt earlier this month.

The new stats are as unsurprising as they are troubling. We already knew, based on preliminary data the department had already released, that abortions dropped some 14.3 percent between 2013 and 2014. The full stats, however, show that the dip in Hispanic women accessing abortion contributed to about half of that decline. While 24,063 Hispanic women in Texas accessed abortion in 2013, that number dropped to 19,654 the first full year Texas’ H.B.2 went into effect, the largest drop among any racial or ethic group tracked by DSHS data.

Which shouldn’t be surprising, since H.B.2 was credited with shuttering roughly half of abortion clinics across the state, including all but one south of San Antonio, home to much of the state’s low-income Hispanic population. In a conference call with reporters after this week’s High Court ruling, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health said H.B.2 exacerbated barriers to reproductive healthcare that many Hispanic women in Texas already faced, from poverty to lack of transportation to immigration status. Some, she said, have been forced to take out high-interest payday loans, work extra jobs or even stop paying for college classes in order to afford travel to a clinic that still performs abortion.

Add to all of this the fact that many Hispanic women in South Texas actually relied on clinics shuttered by H.B.2 in order to obtain contraceptives and other reproductive healthcare. Which means that, since providers have no idea how long it will take to rebuild the healthcare network decimated by H.B.2, the Supreme Court’s ruling doesn't immediately fix the problem highlighted by the state’s own data.

The new stats also show that the numbers of women accessing a medication abortion plummeted from more than 16,000 in 2013 to less than 5,000 in 2014. That’s likely result of a provision in the law that forced doctors to abide by antiquated federal guidelines for prescribing abortion drugs that, coupled with Texas’ other abortion restrictions, effectively required four clinic visits for a two-pill procedure (the feds finally updated their prescribing guidelines in March).

The stats also show a remarkable 75 percent increase in women traveling outside the state to access abortion in recent years, from just 97 women in 2012 to more than 700 in 2014. 
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