States watch Texas to determine impact of abortion bans

The Lone Star State implemented its ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy on Sept. 1, 2021

Protesters rally outside as the Supreme Court hears two challenges to Texas’ new abortion law on Nov. 1, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Protesters rally outside as the Supreme Court hears two challenges to Texas’ new abortion law on Nov. 1, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 1, 2022 at 5:48pm

As states have moved to outlaw abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court's June 24 decision overturning Roe v. Wade, many have looked to Texas as a model. 

The state implemented its ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy on Sept. 1, 2021 — one year ago today, and nine months before the court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision — and analysts are looking to the state to determine how such bans might play out in the roughly half of all states that have litigated or implemented pre-viability abortion bans since the court's decision. 

The six-week ban, known as SB 8, was one of a trifecta of provisions Texas lawmakers employed to limit abortion in the past year. On Aug. 25, the state implemented a 2021 trigger law banning all abortion. It has also reactivated a previously inactive 1925 law banning abortion. In effect, the state has multiple layers of protection to ward off legal challenges.

Texas also spearheaded a new legal maneuver subsequently adopted by other states, like Oklahoma: allowing private citizens to file state civil actions for minimum damages of $10,000 against anyone suspected of aiding in an abortion.

The impact has been swift but has not necessarily ended abortion among state residents.

On Thursday, Planned Parenthood released data showing that its health centers in states neighboring Texas saw a 550 percent increase in patients seeking an abortion coming from a Texas ZIP code after the implementation of SB 8.

The data, which compared the periods September 2020-June 2021 and September 2021-June 2022, found that in June 2022, Texas patients traveled an average of over 400 miles to obtain an abortion, four times as far as the prior June.

It also saw the number of Texas patients visiting New Mexico clinics more than double, saw the number visiting Kansas clinics from Texas jump from under 10 to over 400, and found a tenfold increase in Texas abortion patients going to Colorado clinics — all compared with the previous year.

Planned Parenthood clinics in Oklahoma reported that 56 percent of their abortion patients from September 2021 to May 2022 came from a Texas ZIP code. The state implemented its own Texas-style ban in May.

Planned Parenthood officials predict that as more states ban abortion, those seeking abortions will drive up demand for the procedure in states where it remains legal.

Debate over life-threatening conditions

The landscape of when and where abortions can be performed as a life-saving procedure has also grown more complicated as more states issue bans.

Texas successfully challenged July 11 Biden administration guidance citing a 1986 federal emergency medical care law to remind states that hospitals must be able and willing to provide an abortion in an emergency medical situation as a federal requirement to continue receiving Medicare funding.

The Texas trigger law bans performing an abortion after fertilization — except in the case of  “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy” — that would result in death or serious impairment if not performed. Violators could face five years to life in prison and $100,000 in fees.

But while a federal judge ruled against the Biden administration in Texas,  the Justice Department successfully used that guidance to block Idaho's ban on abortion, arguing its abortion ban violated the 1986 law. The Idaho law is currently blocked under a preliminary injunction.

A spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said this lawsuit enjoins the Health and Human Services Department guidance from being enforced in Texas only and is not applicable nationwide.

Still, the conflict between the two suits could set up a lengthy legal battle that could end up in the Supreme Court.

Political impact

Polling released Thursday from PerryUndem, a nonpartisan public opinion firm, suggests that many Texas voters did not support the 2021 law and that it could motivate how they vote in the midterms.

PerryUndem found that 60 percent of Texans says they support abortion being available in all or most cases, including 32 percent of voters backing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for reelection. Only 11 percent said abortion should be unavailable in all cases.

The survey, which polled Texas voters from June 15 to 24, the day of the Supreme Court decision, also suggests the implementation of the ban last year has laid a framework for establishing abortion as a key issue. Despite this, only 36 percent had heard about the state’s trigger ban.

Fifty-three percent said the law motivated them “a lot” to vote this fall, and 56 percent said they would ensure their candidates represented their views on abortion. The voting groups most motivated by the law included Democratic women, Democratic men and Black women.