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Study: Texas law leads to more self-induced abortion attempts

Restrictions on medications and access to doctors have led an increasing number of women to seek abortion-inducing drugs in Mexico or use another method to attempt to end pregnancies.
By Stephen Feller   |   Nov. 18, 2015 at 12:57 PM

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- A study at the University of Texas found a sharp increase in the number of attempted self-induced abortions in Texas after laws were passed there restricting access to clinical abortions and abortion-inducing medications.

The state passed House Bill 2 in 2013, which has been the subject of lawsuits and will soon go before the U.S. Supreme Court, placing strict oversight on abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486, requiring clinics to meet the operating standards of ambulatory surgical centers, and requiring all doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The requirement for doctors reportedly forced many who perform the procedure to stop offering them.

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Previous studies have shown that self-abortion attempts are more common in Texas than the rest of the country because abortion-inducing drugs are much easier to get along the border with Mexico, where they often are available over the counter without a prescription.

The new study, conducted by researchers at UT's Texas Policy Evaluation Project, found between 100,000 and 240,000 women had attempted a self-induced abortion since the law's passage.

UT researchers surveyed 1,397 women, receiving complete responses from 779, during a five-week period between December 2014 and January 2015.

Of the respondents, 1.7 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 49 had ever tried to end a pregnancy on their own, and 2.3 percent reported a "best friend" had attempted a self-induced abortion. The two numbers gave researchers a high-end estimate of 4.1 percent of Texas women who'd tried to end a pregnancy without a doctor, leading to a range of 100,000 to 240,000 women who'd made an attempt.

The most common method of trying to induce an abortion was taking a medication, however some women also reported the use of herbs or alternative medicines, alcohol or illicit drug use, hormonal pills, or getting hit or punched in the abdomen.

Additionally, researchers found that Latin women living in a county bordering Mexico were more likely to have attempted a self-induced abortion, as were women who said it had been difficult to access reproductive services.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told NBC News the law is a set of "common-sense measures Texas has put in place elevate the standard of care and protect the health of Texas women."

Many women's health advocates, however, point out the law has made it difficult for some women to get reproductive healthcare. According to researchers, over half of Texas facilities providing abortions have closed since 2013.

"If the final portion of HB2 goes into effect requiring all facilities providing abortion to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, the number of facilities will be further reduced from 18 to 10," researchers wrote.

"We are getting a sense of the very real impact these restrictions have on women, and it's deeply disturbing," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a press release. "Most people thought we were well past the days of women taking matters into their own hands, but laws that make it impossible to get safe and legal abortion are taking us backwards."

"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," Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor at the University of California San Francisco, said in a press release. "As clinic-based care becomes harder to access in Texas, we can expect more women to feel that they have no other option and take matters into their own hands."

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