Texas Abortion Ban: Women Already Resorting to Back-Alley Abortions

The unintended consequences of Texas’s controversial abortion restrictions have already started to pile up, even though the law hasn’t yet passed. In South Texas, women are already buying potentially unsafe abortion pills at outdoor flea markets. This is hardly the “ideal world” Governor Rick Perry imagined.

“It's important to remember that, as a state, while we are under an obligation to protect the health and safety of the people who live here, we are under no obligation to make things easier for abortion providers,” Perry said in a June 27 speech to pro-life activists. “The ideal world, of course, is a world without abortion.”

Supporters describe the law in question as a way to keep women safe, as it will require clinics to meet standards similar to those of hospitals. On its face, that may not seem like an absurd requirement. The reality, however, is that compliance with the standards laid out in the bill is prohibitively expensive, and for many, logistically impossible. Effectively, the bill does not provide safer abortions, but ensures that clinics will no longer be available and that abortions will become so expensive that most women will no longer be able to afford them.

Despite their rhetoric, Perry and other GOP leaders in Texas seek to create the opposite of an “ideal world” in the state of Texas. They want to create an environment in which abortions are almost impossible to get, while exacerbating the factors that lead women to have unintended pregnancies in the first place.

Texas refuses to teach safe-sex practices in schools, and turns down federal funding for such programs, pushing abstinence-only education instead. While state leaders insist on the effectiveness of their program, Texas has had one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the nation for decades.  

Further, in 2011, the Republican Party gutted the state’s funding for women’s health programs. In so doing, they cut 300,000 women’s access to family planning services, which resulted in roughly 20,000 unplanned births.

Republican legislators have created an environment in which it is incredibly easy for women to make mistakes, and have left them no recourse once those mistakes are made. If the state will not help these women, then they will find a way to help themselves — and they already have.

As Reuters reports, health care providers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley have already seen women bleeding and suffering from incomplete abortions after taking Cytotec, a pill that induces abortion, without medical supervision. The women, who live in one of the state’s poorest areas, have been using such pills since the state cut funding for birth control in 2011. If women's health clinics will become more expensive, or fewer and farther between, unsupervised use of such pills is expected to rise.

Women used to have to make a trip to Mexico, where pharmacies can legally sell the drugs without a prescription. But black market importation recently began bringing the pills into Texas, where they can be found with relative ease in flea markets. Residents say all you need to do is ask for it.

While the FDA has approved use of the pill to induce abortions within seven weeks of pregnancy, women who buy the pills illegally are rarely given correct instructions on how to use them. Reuters reports that a man selling the pills in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas recommended an initial dose of two pills orally and one vaginally, followed by two pills every hour “until something happens.” Unfortunately, that “something” could be be premature birth or uterine rupture.

Perry’s stated “obligation to protect the health and safety” of Texas's citizens seems less and less like the real reason for his almost obsessive support of this bill. It’s time for Perry and his party to confront the realities of their policies.