Study confirms claim that Texas law bans abortion before many know they're pregnant


And it found that marginalized groups are likely to be hit hardest by the ban.

A new study confirms what activists have been saying in the wake of Texas' six-week abortion ban: Many people do not know they are pregnant at the six-week mark. 

Texas made news in May when its Republican governor, Greg Abbott, signed into law what is arguably the strictest abortion ban in the United States and what many abortion rights advocates have called a near-total ban.

The Texas ban bars providers from performing an abortion at six weeks' gestation with what is often incorrectly termed a "heartbeat bill." But there is not yet a heart to beat at six weeks — merely a collection of electrical impulses

Functionally, the law only gives people a two-week window past their missed period to learn they are pregnant and obtain an abortion, as pregnancy is calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period. If people have irregular cycles, that two-week window isn't enough.

It's been widely discussed that people who have irregular periods may not know they're pregnant at six weeks. 

An additional problem is the one uncovered by the study, which appears in a forthcoming issue of the research journal Contraception — that of how one determines one is pregnant. The study found that 74% of people took a home pregnancy test before going to the doctor. People who took a pregnancy test at home confirmed their pregnancy, on average, about 10 days sooner than those who didn't. 

However, many people — particularly teenagers — don't seek home pregnancy tests out. The study found that there were three main reasons people didn't choose home tests: First, there's an issue of access — whether people have the means, financial and otherwise, to get to a store to buy a test. Next, people have concerns about accuracy. Finally, people delay getting a pregnancy test because they are scared of the possible result. 

Access concerns, the study noted, disproportionately affect adolescents. Only 14% of the people in the study overall indicated cost or difficulty getting to a store led to a delay in obtaining a test, but that number jumps to 34% for adolescents. 

The study also found, though it didn't pinpoint an underlying reason, that Black and Latinx people ended up confirming their pregnancies, on average, five to 10 days later than non-Latinx white people. This tracks with previous studies that found that later awareness of pregnancy was much more common among Black and Latinx people, young people, and people who had unintended pregnancies. 

That later awareness typically takes people past the six-week ban. Twenty-one percent of all people confirm their pregnancy after the seven-week mark, but that number leaps to 47% for adolescents and 28% for Latinx people. People lacking reliable access to food are also more likely to confirm their pregnancies past the seven-week mark. 

After Texas's S.B. 8 was passed, abortion rights activists warned that the law would disproportionately affect people of color and people living in poverty. This study backstops this concern. 

The Texas law remains in effect, generating an increasingly complicated legal history. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two separate lawsuits as to whether the Biden administration and abortion providers had the right to challenge the state. Last week, a Texas state court judge heard arguments in some of the 14 cases filed at the state level. 

The unavailability of abortions in Texas has led to a run on clinics in other states that's moved beyond those that border Texas. In the event Texas' law is allowed to stand, the evidence suggests that trend is likely to continue. People of color and people living in poverty are far less likely to be able to travel out of state, however. Combined with the fact they're less likely to learn of their pregnancy in the narrow six-week window, abortion is going to be completely out of reach for many of these Texans.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.