The state of Minnesota is poised to begin passing abortion restrictions this legislative session, as the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee met and approved two new potential anti-choice laws.
The first, a ban on telemed or “webcam” abortions is seeking to doctors from assisting women in procuring abortions using RU 486 after consultatio through a webcam, a practice that is medically proven to be safe and effective and that has increased access to abortion for women in rural areas where clinics may be inaccessible.
The second, a law targetted specifically at clinics that perform abortions, would force any facility that performs 10 or more abortions each month to be licensed with the Department of Health, and will allow surprise inspections to be performed.
Both bills are likely to pass the House and the Senate, which have anti-choice majorities. It is unclear if Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat who supports a woman’s right to choose, would veto them or not.
A Rewire analysis has found that while Texas data shows there has been a decline in the number of abortions in the state, data from other neighboring states suggests there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Texans traveling out of state to access abortion care since the passage of HB 2 in 2013.
Last week, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) was accused by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas of deliberately attempting to concealabortion statistics from 2014, the first full year provisions of the state’s omnibus abortion law were in effect.
DSHS has yet to respond to a letter from the ACLU of Texas demanding that the agency make those statistics available to the public.
The news comes as the Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges provisions of the abortion law, HB 2, which lawyers of the abortion clinics argue place an undue burden on patients and providers in the state, impeding their ability to provide or access constitutionally protected health care.
DSHS officials finalized the statistics in March, according to the ACLU in a statement, but they have yet to release the full statistics to the public.
“The details are being reviewed for accuracy,” Carrie Williams, director of media relations for DSHS, told Rewire. “We did release the provisional total several months ago but can’t release the underlying details until they are final.”
Even without those details, a Rewire analysis has found that while DSHS data shows there has been a decline in the number of abortions in the state, data from other neighboring states suggests there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Texans traveling out of state to access abortion care since the passage of HB 2 in 2013.
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The number of abortions in Texas has been steadily decreasing since 2008, according to data from DSHS: Over the six-year period, the number has declined by nearly 22 percent. There were 81,591 abortions in 2008, 77,850 in 2009, 77,592 in 2010, 72,470 in 2011, 68,298 in 2012, and 63,849 in 2013.
Around that time, the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have abortions also steadily decreased, by nearly 57 percent from 2008 to 2012. There were 225 patients who had abortions out of state in 2008, 220 in 2009, 129 in 2010, 138 in 2011, and 97 in 2012, according to DSHS.
In 2013, the year Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed HB 2 into law,the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have an abortion increased to 681—more than the previous four years combined. Prior to the implementation of HB 2, there were 41 facilities providing abortion services in the state, and 16 of those facilities had either closed or stopped providing abortion services by the end of 2013.
Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, told Rewire that the statistics for out-of-state abortions for Texans are concerning. “This is more evidence of what was already proven in court: Texas’ onerous regulations unnecessarily block access to safe, legal abortion in our state,” Trigilio said in an email to Rewire.
Specifically, a study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project showed the implementation of HB 2 has increased travel distances to clinics, out-of-pocket costs, and overnight stays.
At least 400 more patients traveled outside of Texas to have an abortion in 2014 than did in 2013, according to Rewire‘s analysis. Data collected by the state health departments of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana shows that at least 1,086 patients traveled to those states from Texas to obtain an abortion after portions of HB 2 took effect.
“Based on this [analysis from Rewire], it’s clear that this law doesn’t make women safer, it forces them to travel across the Texas border to get the care they need—and for womenwho can’t afford to leave the state, Texas law may prevent them from seeing a doctor at all,” Trigilio continued.
Texas Patients Seeking Out-of-State Abortions
In the wake of HB 2, more than half of the clinics that provide abortion services in Texas have been forced to close, leaving large swaths of the state without access to legal abortion care. The majority of the clinics that have remained open are located in major metropolitan areas: Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.
As clinics that once served rural areas have closed, patients have been forced to drive hundreds of miles away from their homes to one of the state’s major cities or cross the border into neighboring states.
Arkansas has seen a slight increase since the passage of HB 2 in the number of patients from Texas seeking abortion care.
Kansas has also seen a slight increase in the number of Texas patients seeking abortion care, according to statistics published by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. There were two patients from Texas who traveled to Kansas to obtain an abortion during 2012, 13 in 2013, 23 in 2014, and 24 in 2015.
Oklahoma saw a noticeable increase in the number of patients from Texas seeking abortion care there after the passage of HB 2, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health annual abortion surveillance report.
There were 21 patients from Texas who had an abortion during 2012 in Oklahoma, 59 in 2013, 136 in 2014, and 131 in 2015.
Based on Rewire‘s analysis, it seems as if no other state has seen a larger increase in patients from Texas seeking abortion care than Louisiana.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) publishes data on abortions performed there collected by the State Center for Health Statistics (SCHS), but has typically not published data on the number of patients who live outside the state who have an abortion in Louisiana.
Preliminary SCHS figures for 2015 provided to Louisiana Right to Life, a state affiliate of the anti-choice organization National Right to Life Committee, included data on patients from out of state who obtained abortions in Louisiana.
There were 9,311 abortions performed in Louisiana during 2015, and patients from out of state accounted for 1,362 of all abortions performed in the state, according to DHH data published by Louisiana Right to Life.
The data did not include the states of residency for the patients from out of state, which the organization notedis “not available at this time.”
However, preliminary SCHS figures for 2014 provided to the Louisiana Right to Life did include details on the states of residency for patients who had an abortion in Louisiana. There were 10,211 abortions performed in Louisiana during 2014, and patients from out of state accounted for 1,432 of all abortions performed in the state.
Out of the 1,432 abortions had by residents from out of state, 886 were from Texas.
Brittany Defeo, program manager with the aid group New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, previously told Rewire that the people she assists represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds. “They’re ages 18 to 40. It’s all walks of life,” Defeo said.
Defeo estimates that approximately one third of those seeking abortion services in New Mexico from out of state are from Texas. If estimates are correct, that would suggest that approximately 300 patients traveled from Texas to New Mexico to obtain abortion care in 2014.
Natalie St. Clair, who assists patients seeking abortion care with nonprofit Fund Texas Choice, told the Texas Observer that she helps about ten clients per month travel to New Mexico to access abortion care. St. Clair explained to the Observer that clients often express shock over the barriers in Texas to accessing abortion care.
“I hear a lot of ‘I had no idea that the laws were this way. I have to go out of state?’ There’s a lot of shame and guilt because people think it’s their fault, or they weren’t prepared enough,” St. Clair said. “I explain that [Texas laws] are set up this way on purpose … [They’re] making abortion inaccessible on purpose.”
Trigilio told Rewire that this data shows that HB 2 was never about protecting patients’s health and safety as proponents have claimed. “When a woman makes the deeply personal decision to have an abortion, she needs access to safe medical care and respect for the decision she has made. HB 2 impedes that,” the ACLU of Texas staff attorney said.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law last week a two-bill package that will penalize citizens who engage in what Republican lawmakers are calling “abortion coercion.”
Snyder signed into law HB 4787 and its companion bill, HB 4830, on June 9, making it a criminal offense to coerce a pregnant person to have an abortion against their will.
As part of an omnibus anti-abortion legislative effort in 2012, the Republican-controlled legislation implemented provisions that involved a screening process for coercion at abortion clinics.
HB 4787, sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) and supported by Right to Life of Michigan, explicitly criminalizes coercing someone into an abortion. Under HB 4787, penalties include “a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000.00.”
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The law also outlines the many forms of coercion the bill seeks to prevent, including threats. For example, “threaten” is defined as making “2 or more statements or to engage in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the individual is likely to act in accordance with the statements or the course of conduct.”
The companion law, HB 4830, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton), creates felony penalties of jail time or $5,000 to $10,000 fines for those found guilty of violating HB 4787.
In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bills by a 3-1 vote, sending the measure to the Senate for a full vote. The House of Representatives had approved the two-bill package in March.
In 2012, Michigan lawmakers in support of the omnibus bill cited a 2004 study co-authored by David Reardon, the engineer who founded the anti-choice nonprofit organization, the Elliot Institute. That study, titled “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women” was published in the Medical Science Monitor and suggested 64 percent of women who had abortions said they felt pressured into having the procedure performed.
Pro-choice advocates have criticized the study, noting that it used a small sample size of American women, 50 percent of whom already believed abortion was “morally wrong.” Advocates also point to a 2005 Guttmacher Institute study in which 14 percent of women who were asked their reasons for choosing abortion cited “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion,” and 6 percent cited “parents want me to have an abortion.” However, the Guttmacher study also found that less than 0.5 percent of each group cited those wishes as the single most important reason for having the abortion.
Many critics note that the Michigan laws do not include language that protects people forced into carrying a pregnancy to term and only focuses on those who are forced into terminating a pregnancy.
Sen. Rebekah Warren, (D-Ann Arbor) in particular, criticized that aspect of the legislation, according to the Detroit News.
“If we’re going to say today that it’s unacceptable today to coerce a woman into having an abortion and terminating a pregnancy, it should be equally unacceptable to force a woman into continuing a pregnancy that may not be in her best interest, that may not be what she needs for her health or mental well-being or for her future,” Warren said.
When the Michigan legislature began considering the two bills in 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood affiliates in Michigan spoke out against the law, arguing they were unnecessary.
Shelli Weisberg of the ACLU of Michigan told MLive.com that coercive abortion laws were rooted in false assumptions that those seeking abortion care are “confused, misled or coerced.”
Similarly, Planned Parenthood and lawmakers like Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), said Michigan already had laws in place to prevent and penalize people who engage in coercive behavior such as stalking and discriminating against pregnant people, according to the Detroit News.