Research Shows Texas Abortion Ban Didn’t Stop People From Seeking Abortion Care

pro-choice protest in Austin, Texas

 Jordan Vonderhaar / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Texas introduced the most restrictive state abortion law in the United States in September, prohibiting abortion as early as five or six weeks and enabling people to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone attain an abortion after this stage.
  • Two new studies show that the law has merely forced thousands of Texans to seek care out-of-state or search for alternative means to end their pregnancies.
  • Three of the four states that border Texas have so-called trigger laws that would prohibit abortion if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would further reduce access to safe abortions and likely cause irreparable harm.

It’s been more than six months since the Texas Heartbeat Act (SB 8), the most restrictive state-level abortion law in the United States, came into effect. New research shows that the law has only increased the burden on thousands of residents who’ve been forced to seek care elsewhere. 

The Texas law bans abortions once a heartbeat can be detected, which is can be early as five to six weeks into a pregnancy and before many people realize that they’re pregnant. It also enables people to sue abortion providers or or anyone else who helps someone attain an in-state abortion after this stage. 

The law remains in effect despite a number of legal challenges, and two new studies highlight that abortion restrictions do not work to reduce the need for abortion care—they simply force people to travel further and spend more money do so.

“SB 8 has not reduced the need for abortion care in Texas,” said Kari White, PhD, MPH, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin‘s School of Social Work and lead researcher on a new study highlighting the number of Texans who traveled out of state to access abortion care following the implementation of the law. “Rather, it has greatly reduced in-state access and forced thousands of Texans to seek care out of state or search for alternative means to end their pregnancies.”

An Ever-Present Need

Between September and December 2021, an average of 1,391 Texans per month obtained abortions at facilities in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, according to the study.

The real number is likely higher since researchers did not obtain data from 10 out of 44 facilities in these states, and the study did not include Texans who have traveled to other U.S. states for care. 

During the same period in 2019, just 514 Texans left the state for an abortion, the study indicated. Since the implementation of SB 8, the monthly average of Texans traveling out-of-state is nearly equal to the total number of Texans who traveled out-of-state each year between 2017 and 2019.

“The number of Texans traveling out-of-state for abortion care since September 2021 far surpasses what we have seen when other state abortion restrictions have gone into effect,” White said.

This study included interviews and personal stories from Texans who’ve been impacted by the law. Many of them have had to drive upward of 10 hours just to receive care. And, as the study stated, “out-of-state travel … has meant foregoing the emotional, logistical—and even medical—support that could be found closer to home.”

While many Texans have traveled to neighboring states to receive abortions, a second study, published in JAMA Network Open, highlights the increased number of people who’ve ordered abortion pills in the mail since the law came into effect.

The monthly average of people in Texas who ordered abortion pills has more than tripled following the implementation of SB 8, according to the study. Researchers analyzed data from Aid Access, which connects people with doctors in Europe and pharmacies in India in order to bypass U.S. abortion restrictions.

Before SB 8 came into effect, the average number of daily requests from Texas was 11. That number rose to 138 per day the first week after the law came into effect, and it has since leveled off to a more moderate but sustained increase of approximately 37 requests each day.

The research presented in these two studies proves what pro-choice advocates have long reiterated in the face of new abortion restrictions: Anti-abortion laws do not eliminate abortions.

“We have known for a long time that laws that are anti-choice do not decrease abortions—they only decrease safe abortions,” Jennifer Lincoln, MD, an OB-GYN with a TikTok following of 2.6 million, told Verywell. 

Marginalized Communities Fare the Worst

While those with the necessary means and resources will likely always find a way to access safe abortion care by getting past some logistical hurdles, Lincoln said society’s most marginalized have and will continue to pay the steepest price for these restrictive laws—literally and figuratively.

“As we’ve seen before, people who are economically disadvantaged and those that are historically marginalized in health care fare the worst,” Lincoln said. “Lawmakers know this and choose to ignore it, as these laws are not about improving their constituents’ lives—it’s about their political agenda and control.”

According to White, people of color and immigrant families who fear encounters with police and border enforcement, parents who have limited childcare options, and minors who cannot involve a parent in their care are among those who face the greatest challenges when it comes to traveling out of state.

And it could soon become even more challenging, as three of the four states that border Texas have so-called “trigger laws” that would prohibit abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned in an upcoming Supreme Court decision in the summer. Approximately 26 states are expected to ban or restrict abortion access if it’s overturned.

Lincoln, who currently practices as an OB hospitalist and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), said this would make safe abortions significantly more difficult to access than they already are for Americans in Republican-run states, causing irreparable harm to the most vulnerable.

“We will see an uptick in complications related to unsafe abortions such as hospitalizations for hemorrhage and infection, people losing their uterus because of complications, and death,” she said. “The poverty divide will only widen. And don’t forget—if we normalize allowing the government to have reproductive control like this, where does it stop?”

What This Means For You

If you live in Texas and need abortion care, you still have options. You can travel to a facility in a neighboring state to receive care, or you can order abortion pills in the mail from websites such as Aid Access.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Aiken ARA, Starling JE, Scott JG, Gomperts R. Association of Texas Senate Bill 8 with requests for self-managed medication abortionJAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(2):e221122. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.1122

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women's health, and culture.