AUSTIN — In West and South Texas counties, there was a 50 percent drop in abortions after a 2013 state law led to the closure of most abortion clinics, forcing women to travel farther to get services, according to a new report.

The increased distances to the nearest abortion facility were closely associated with decreases in the number of abortions between 2012 and 2014, the study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found.

Women in about 50 West and South Texas counties, including eight around the Rio Grande Valley, had to travel 100 miles or more to get an abortion when clinics closed after House Bill 2 was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry. The decrease in abortions in those counties averaged 50.3 percent.

That law, among other things, required all abortion clinics in Texas to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center and doctors who provided abortions had to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court, on a vote of 5-3, ruled the two provisions in the Texas law were unconstitutional by placing an undue burden on women’s ability to obtain a legal abortion.

In the meantime, more than half of Texas facilities providing abortions closed, decreasing from 41 in 2012 to 17 in 2016, the study found. All are clustered in a handful of urban counties.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Thursday, three days before the anniversary of the landmark case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.

In 2012, there were 66,098 abortions performed on Texas residents, including 97 abortions done out of state, the study said. In 2014, after HB 2 was enacted, Texas residents had 53,882 abortions, but the number obtained out of state grew to 754.

Overall, there was an 18.5 percent decline in abortions performed on Texas residents between 2012 and 2014, according to statistics published by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The study says that statistics do not include women who self-induced abortions or those who may have traveled to Mexico to seek services.

“Our study gives further insight into the ways that the clinic closures due to Texas’ restrictive law resulted in an undue burden on women seeking access to abortion care in Texas,” Dr. Daniel Grossman, an investigator with TxPEP, said in a news release. “It corroborates the findings of our previous qualitative research, where we heard from women that the long distances to the nearest clinic created significant financial and logistical barriers to care.”

Grossman disclosed that he was an expert witness for an abortion clinic that challenged the state law in federal court.

Counties that did have an open facility in 2014 had minimal distance change, but there was still a 15.9 percent decline in abortions. The study said this indicates facilities struggled to meet the demand for abortions.

This story was published in the San Antonio Express-News Jan. 21, 2017. 

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