Thousands of Texas Women Self-Induce Abortion, Study Finds

Women point to cost barriers, clinic closures as reasons

Thousands of Texas Women Self-Induce Abortion, Study Finds
Illustration by Jason Stout

At least 100,000 Texas women (from age 18 to 49) have attempted to terminate a pregnancy without medical assistance, unprecedented research shows.

New findings, released today by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), a University of Texas at Austin-based five-year analysis of the impact Legislative policies have had on Texas women’s health, found abortion self-induction appears more common in Texas compared to other parts of the U.S. Researchers point to the state’s harsh abortion clinic restrictions, including House Bill 2, and the proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, where abortion-inducing drug misoprostol is often available in pharmacies without needing a prescription.

While overall 1.7% of women reported that they tried to end a pregnancy on their own, researchers suggest this is a low estimate in the general population since women tend to underreport abortion surveys due to stigma; the total number could, in fact, be as many as 240,000 women. And the absolute number is quite large considering the size of Texas, said Dr. Daniel Grossman, TxPEP co-investigator and professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, during a press call this morning. With the rise of harsh abortion laws, investigators believe more women will take matters into their own hands. “This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB2 that pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk,” said Grossman.

Self-induction is most likely to disproportionately affect Latina women living close to the border and women who have found it difficult to get access to basic reproductive health services like birth control or Pap smears (due to high expense or barriers in arranging transportation to an appointment, brought on by the dwindling number of clinics in local communities). Women cited four major reasons for self-induction: costs to travel to a clinic or to pay for the procedure; local clinic closures; recommendation from a friend or family member to self-induce, or avoiding the “shame or stigma” of entering an abortion clinic.

Aside from abortion drugs, women also reported self-induction with herbs, homeopathic remedies, “getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills,” research found. Ana R. DeFrates, state policy and advocacy director with the Texas Latina Advocacy Network (LAN), retold the story of Vanessa, a pregnant Rio Grande Valley mother of three. Due to high cost associated with travel and child care, she failed to have the means to overcome obstacles to obtain abortion in Texas. She then sought to terminate her pregnancy with herbs and injections, but they proved ineffective. As a last resort option, Vanessa traveled to Mexico for an abortion but the clinic there was unable to treat her; she was eventually forced to carry her pregnancy to term and support four children on an already financially strained budget. “No one should have to leave the state or go to another country for an abortion, or be forced to carry to their pregnancies to term,” said DeFrates.

This study marks the first time a statistic on self-induction in the general population has been calculated. The TxPEP team, which includes researchers from the University of Texas Population Research Center, Ibis Reproductive Health, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and the University of California at San Francisco, released findings last month that showed women are now experiencing substantial average wait times to schedule an appointment for an abortion – in Austin some women are waiting up to 20 days, they found.

Reproductive health advocates say that without help from the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently agreed to hear a challenge to two provisions of abortion law, HB 2, the rate of self-induction and the multiple barriers to abortion access will inevitably get higher. If the final part of HB 2 is enacted, no more than 10 clinics will survive to serve a population of 5.4 million women. "[The] lack of access is only going to get worse unless we get intervention from the Supreme Court. Women need care in their local communities; no matter where they live or what their status is, women deserve to have the option to go to a local clinic they trust," said suit plaintiff, Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Woman's Health.

For more, check out our War on Women's Health page.

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abortion rights, reproductive rights, House Bill 2

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