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ACLU: Texas Department of Health Is ‘Concealing Abortion Statistics’

Teddy Wilson

The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding in a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner that the agency make those statistics available to the public.

As the wait continues for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law, the wait also continues for the state to release abortion statistics for 2014, the first full year after HB 2 was implemented.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas said in a statement Wednesday that the delay is a deliberate attempt by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to hide the data from the public. The organization is demanding in a letter to the department commissioner, John Hellerstedt, that the agency make those statistics available to the public.

Lawmakers signed the omnibus abortion bill in 2013 under the pretenses of protecting women’s health and safetySince the law took effect, there have been multiple reports documenting the detrimental effect it has had on women’s reproductive health care.

The agency is “concealing the existence of these statistics” in a violation of the Texas Public Information Act, which gives the public the right to request access to government information, according to the letter.

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DSHS’ actions “to hide” the data, which the ACLU argues was final in March, appear to contradict the justification for the law, said Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas. “The State of Texas claims that HB2 protects women’s health. If that’s true, why wouldn’t our public health agency want to trumpet its success?” Burke said in a statement.

DSHS officials are also allegedly directing employees to lie about the statistics, according to the ACLU of Texas.

“Supervisors within DSHS have instructed employees to mislead the public about whether these statistical tables are complete, and to refrain from sending email about the statistics in order to avoid creating a paper trail,” Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney ACLU of Texas, wrote in the letter.

State officials announced in March that the number of abortions performed in the state during 2014 was significantly less than the number of abortion performed in 2013. The DSHS claimed that there were nearly 9,000 fewer abortion procedures than in the previous year, a 14.2 percent decrease.

However, to date the statistics have not been released to the public.

The Center for Health Statistics (CHS) and the Vital Statistics Unit (VSU) collect and analyze a variety of data and produce annual reports that include information of births, deaths, and abortion procedures in the state.

CHS has preliminary data on every type of statistic with the exception of abortion procedures, according to the agency’s publicly available timeline, which was last updated on March 29.

DSHS claims that the data remains incomplete. An agency spokesperson told the Texas Tribune that the data would be released if it were finalized.

“The detailed data for 2014 isn’t final yet for Texas,” the spokesperson said. “We released the provisional total as soon as it was ready several months ago, but the underlying details are being reviewed for accuracy. For the last several years, Texas abortion data was typically finalized and published between March and June.”

DSHS data shows that the number of abortion procedures has been steadily decreasing in the state since 2008. There were 81,591 abortion procedures in 2008; 77,850 in 2009; 77,592 in 2010; 72,470 in 2011; 68,298 in 2012; and 63,849 in 2013.

There was a nearly 22 percent reduction in the number of abortion procedures in the state in the six years prior to the passage of HB 2, according to DSHS data.  

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