Analysis: Abortion Stats Reveal Texas Lawmakers' True Intentions

State lawmakers' 2013 abortion regulations — an effort to circumvent what was spelled out over time by the U.S. Supreme Court — would have been easier to defend with some evidence. But that wasn’t part of the sales pitch.

Demonstrators celebrated at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016, after the court struck down a Texas law imposing strict abortion regulations.
Demonstrators celebrated at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016, after the court struck down a Texas law imposing strict abortion regulations.  Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

Let’s be charitable and say that state officials do not lie when they say what they are doing — but are just being selective for purposes of persuasion.

They want you to buy their version of the story. They’re like the folks at the car lot, trying to sell you a vehicle without talking about the scratches and other defects.

That’s why the sales pitch for 2013’s abortion restrictions emphasized women’s health. The Legislature passed a law that cut the number of abortions but camouflaged it as an effort to protect women seeking abortions.

Not everybody wanted to make it harder to obtain abortions — or to be seen doing so — but it was hard to argue against top-notch medical facilities that could benefit everyone involved. That was the easier way to sell it, an effort to make the debate something other than a straight-up fight over abortion.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Women have a constitutional right to abortions, if they want them, and Congress and the states are blocked from putting an “undue burden” on them that impedes their access and blocks that right.

The 2013 effort to circumvent what was spelled out over time by the U.S. Supreme Court would have been easier still with some study or some evidence, but that wasn’t part of the sales pitch.

The effects were clear, though, and became crystal clear — to the state, at least — when the statistics on abortion were compiled by health officials.

The statistics argue against the state's interest in a case that was completed last week, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared two provisions of that 2013 state law unconstitutional.

The calming sales pitches of state legislators and other officials notwithstanding, the law did just what you might expect. If you close women’s health clinics, you shut down whatever those facilities were doing. Forcing women to travel longer distances for what are supposed to be widely accessible services means fewer women will get those services.

We all know this. It’s how marketplaces work. If you shut down half the clinics in Texas, you’re going to serve fewer patients.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Sure enough, regulating those centers out of business cut the number of legal abortions performed in Texas to 54,902 in 2014 from 63,849 in 2013, a 14 percent drop. The number of drug-induced abortions dropped 69.5 percent over the same period, to 4,938 from 16,189.

They don’t have any statistics that say the women in Texas got healthier as a result of the law — just that the only measurable effect was a lower number of abortions.

Surprise, surprise.

The voices in support of the new regulations came mostly from anti-abortion interests, according to the list of witnesses who testified at the time. Trade groups for hospitals and for obstetricians were against it. In its ruling striking down two key points of the statute, the U.S. Supreme Court said the law did nothing to protect women and that it might have actually increased their health risks.

The keepers of vital statistics in Texas were under orders, apparently, to stuff some of those statistics where the sunlight doesn’t shine, where the courts and the public can't look.

Never mind. That’s old news now.

It’s even older news to state officials, which is worth thinking about.

The keepers of vital statistics in Texas were under orders, apparently, to stuff some of those statistics where the sunlight doesn’t shine, where the courts and the public can't look.

They finished their work, according to sources, back in February — after the oral arguments in the Texas case and before the ruling that finally landed last week. The ACLU asked for the numbers before the ruling but was rebuffed by lawyers at the Department of State Health Services who, in spite of what some of their number-crunchers were saying, decided the numbers were not ready for public consumption.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Miraculously, the numbers popped up like spring lilies 72 hours after the Supreme Court ruled that the state had gone too far.

The agency dropped the information late on Thursday, as people inside and outside government were counting down to a three-day weekend. The kind of red-letter event that merits an extra day off also presents a perfect opportunity to drop a dumpster full of information without alarming or even awakening much of the voting public.

Maybe you didn’t like the court’s opinion. Maybe you did. Either way, you didn’t have the numbers to argue your point until the argument was over.

They really didn’t want us to see those scratches, did they?