Texas ban on abortions during coronavirus led to spike in later abortions

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New reporting shows the effects of conservative states' virus-era bans on abortion.

During the first wave of the coronavirus, Texas attempted to ban abortion, resulting in a flurry of court decisions over the legality of the procedure during the pandemic. It was only after the ban was finally lifted that clinics in the state were able to see the effects of the ban: a considerable spike in later abortions. 

NBC News interviewed the directors of several clinics in Texas, all of whom reported a substantial increase in patients seeking abortions later in pregnancy. One clinic in Dallas, Southwestern Women's Surgery Center, said they saw a 57% increase in later abortions taking place in the second trimester.  

While Southwestern Women's Surgery Center didn't provide the raw numbers behind that increase, Planned Parenthood in Houston did. They saw a 28% increase in abortions occurring after the 10-week mark after the state lifted its ban. That was an average of 51 patients seeking a later abortion immediately after the ban versus 40 patients per week before the ban.

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That 10-week mark is significant because that's the point after which medication abortion is unavailable. According to the clinic personnel interviewed, Texas' executive order banning abortion pushed many patients past that 10-week mark. 

Soraya Dadras, the clinic director for Whole Women's Health in Austin, said that many people were upset when they were told they were too far along for a medication abortion. She said people found "the idea of having an in-clinic procedure was more daunting than having a medication abortion in the safety of their home."

What happened with the coronavirus ban was nothing new. Indeed, Texas saw the exact same thing happen earlier in the decade after it passed House Bill 2. 

H.B. 2 was a 2013 law that imposed hospital-level standards on abortion facilities and required admitting privileges. The Supreme Court struck down the law in 2016, but in the interim, 21 of Texas' 40 providers were closed. Research found that during that time, there was a 40% increase in second-trimester procedures. People needed to raise additional funds for travel, accommodations, child care, and time off work. Taking that time pushed abortion later in pregnancy. 

Right now, Texas is struggling with a wave of coronavirus cases. Five South Texas communities have the highest infection rates in the country right now and the state has over 9,000 deaths from the virus.

The medical director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Bhavik Kumar, expressed concern that clinics might have to close again as cases rise.

"There has been so much back and forth with the state, and as a provider in Texas, I know I need to be prepared for another instance when I am forced to stop providing essential care to my patients due to the harmful orders from our state leaders," he said.

At least 11 states used the coronavirus pandemic to ban abortion, with varying degrees of success. Time will tell whether the experience of patients in Texas is replicated elsewhere.  

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.