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Study: Longer distances to Texas clinics linked to decline in abortions

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association links increased distances to decline in abortions in Texas.

A woman reflects quietly in the waiting room at Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast's ambulatory surgical center in Houston Friday, August 2, 2013.

A wave of abortion clinic closures in Texas since 2013 has led to a drop in the number of abortions performed, and the steepest declines are associated with communities that were the farthest from the remaining clinics, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the state's most stringent abortion restrictions proposed by House Bill 2, which then-Gov. Rick Perry signed into law in 2013 and required all Texas facilities performing abortions to meet hospital-like ambulatory surgical center standards and forced doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinics.

Before it was overturned, the bill led to the closure of more than a dozen Texas clinics.

Residents in the six Texas counties that still had an abortion provider in 2014 accounted for a majority of abortions, according to the study. Counties where distances to the nearest facility increased by 100 miles or more saw a 50 percent decline in abortions in 2014 compared to two years earlier, according to the study. 

Even in those six counties with providers, abortions declined 15.9 percent in abortions between 2012 and 2014, researchers found.

Though the change in distance to providers in metropolitan areas was small, there was still a significant change in the overall number of abortions, according to Joseph Potter, a professor at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin and a principal investigator of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

"We suspect these decreases were related more to the limited capacity at the remaining abortion clinics rather than distance changes," Potter said. 

Overall, there was an 18.5 percent decrease in abortions performed in Texas residents between 2012-2014, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. These statistics, however, do not include data on women who self-induced abortions or traveled to Mexico to obtain one. 

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Planned Parenthood have been sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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