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Farrar: Repeal 24-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion

Ultrasound law has not stopped women from seeking procedure
Jordan Smith, 3:11pm, Wed. Mar. 6, 2013
Illustration by Jason Stout

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, announced Wednesday that she will file legislation to remove the 24 hour waiting period for women seeking abortion. According to research released this week by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, the waiting period has proven a burden for women and has not changed their minds about going through with the procedure.

Under Texas law women seeking abortion must visit a doctor for a consultation and undergo a mandatory ultrasound 24 hours prior to actually undergoing the procedure. The idea, of course, is that forcing a woman to undergo the ultrasound – and to listen to a fetal heartbeat and to a verbal description of fetal development delivered by her doctor – would persuade a woman to forgo an abortion.

As it turns out, the forced ultrasound and 24-hour waiting period are in fact a burden on women, but the extra step does not dissuade the vast majority of women from going through with the abortion. Those are among the results of a survey of 318 women seeking abortion in six cities across the state, research conducted as part of the TPEP, a three-year project by investigators at the University of Texas, the University of Alabama, and the nonprofit research group Ibis Reproductive Health. Researchers identified survey subjects in waiting rooms in abortion clinics in Dallas, Houston, El Paso, McAllen, and San Antonio beginning in August 2012; a subset of those women were selected for in-depth follow-up interview within a two-month period after their abortion.

The point of the research was to determine "whether [the ultrasound law] improved women's health and really helps them make decisions about their healthcare," Dr. Dan Grossman, VP for research at Ibis and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at San Francisco, said at a Wednesday morning press conference. And there "are indications there that these regulations do not positively impact women's decision-making and in fact a burden to women."

The researchers found that 89% of women surveyed felt "extremely confident or confident" in their decision to choose abortion both before and after the forced ultrasound and 24-hour waiting period, while 31% reported that the 24-hour waiting period had a negative impact on their emotional well-being. Moreover, the waiting period is a burden physically and financially: 23% found it difficult to actually get to the clinic for the extra visit – indeed, the mean distance women had to travel for their appointments was 42 miles in each direction, with some women traveling as far as 400 miles one way – while 45% reported additional out-of-pocket expenses, on average $146, related to transportation, child care costs, or lost wages, said Grossman.

Notably, 45% of the women said that in the three months prior to becoming pregnant they had been unable to access their preferred form of birth control; 50% of those women said that was because the contraception cost too much, that they couldn't find a clinic to provide the birth control, or that they had a problem obtaining a prescription. This "highlights how particularly cruel it is to impose these conditions on abortion care while at the same time" cutting access to family planning, Grossman said.

Indeed, less than a month after passing the ultrasound bill in 2011 House members lined up to slash two-thirds of the roughly $100 million biennial budget for family planning and to impose an awkward matrix for dolling out the remaining roughly $18 million per year among tiered entities. The results have been severe: More than 127,000 women lost access to basic reproductive health care and birth control in 2012, more than 150 clinics were cut off from funding and 53 clinics shuttered their operations. "This is a chain effect, these decisions that are made" by lawmakers, Farrar said at the Wednesday morning press conference.

Interestingly, Grossman said that it appears the overall number of abortions in Texas did decrease between 10-15% last year – a decline greater than seen nationwide – but said the decrease is not tied to women changing their minds after viewing an ultrasound. Instead, the reduction is in the number of women scheduling that first appointment, he said.

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