Restrictive abortion laws increase the number of second trimester abortions, according to a new study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. The study is part of a mounting pile of research suggesting that abortion restrictions may not lower the abortion rate. Figures from Latin America, where the abortion rate is three times higher than in the U.S. but abortion is banned or heavily restricted, suggest that abortion bans may even increase the abortion rate. Other data points to the role of abortion restrictions in higher maternal mortality. In El Salvador, abortion bans are correlated with an increase in suicide by pregnant women and girls.
Texas Abortion Bans Increase Second Trimester Abortion
The study looked at abortion rates in Texas before and after the enactment of House Bill 2. The legislation, which the Supreme Court eventually struck down, required doctors at Texas abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. It also required women using abortion pills to do so in the presence of a doctor, and banned abortions after 20 weeks.
Using a mixed-effects logistic regression, researchers compared abortion practices before and after the law went into effect. There were 64,902 abortions before the law and 53,174 after the law. This suggests the law may have lowered the absolute abortion rate.
The rate of second trimester abortions increased, from 10.5% of all abortions before the law to 14.5% of all abortions after.
Defenders of the law might assert that this is an acceptable outcome because the law lowered the overall abortion rate. However, previous research of women denied abortions due to restrictive abortion laws suggests that this drop in abortion correlates with significantly worse outcomes for women and their children. The Turnaway Study linked being denied an abortion to higher chances of living in poverty, remaining in an abusive relationship, and needing government assistance.
How an Increase in Second Trimester Abortions Harm Women
Republicans have long seized upon later term abortions as an especially insidious practice. Numerous studies have found that Republican policies such as opposition to paid family leave and welfare increase the abortion rate. We now know that Republicans play a direct role in the late term abortions they claim to abhor.
Second trimester abortions also pose greater challenges for women. They’re more expensive, and in many cases, require a longer and more complex procedure. The stigma of second trimester abortion can make the procedure more emotionally challenging. The physical realities of aborting a later term pregnancy may require a longer recovery, including taking time off of work or school.
That, of course, is exactly the point. Republicans don’t really care what happens to women with unwanted pregnancies. That’s why they don’t want to enact legislation that would allow them to keep their babies, or even prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. The goal here has always been to punish women for having sex and getting pregnant. Republicans are winning that fight. Women choosing abortions face more restrictions, more shame, more judgment than ever before.
Yet they still choose abortion. It’s powerful testament to women’s desire to control their own bodies and their own fates.
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