NEW YORK ― Republicans are trying to find a way to defund Planned Parenthood as part of an overall effort to limit abortion in America. But doing so had the opposite effect in Texas, according to a new study based on research from Texas A&M University.
The study, conducted by economics professor Analisa Packham (now at Miami University), shows that in the first three years after Texas Republicans slashed the family planning budget in 2011 and shut down more than 80 women’s health clinics, the abortion rate among teenagers in the state rose 3 percent over what it would have been had the clinics remained open. After cutting Planned Parenthood out of the state’s subsidized women’s health program, then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) said his “goal” was to “ensure abortions are as rare as possible under existing law.” But the move actually interfered with an overall downward trend in abortions in Texas.
“This certainly isn’t the way to have fewer abortions,” said Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper, an OB-GYN in Maryland and an advocate with Physicians for Reproductive Health. “The abortion rates nationally have decreased and are at a historic low. So for Texans to see an increase in adolescent abortions is really telling ― it seemed to have followed the national trend until these clinics were defunded.”
The greatest rises in abortion rates occurred in rural areas, where access to affordable family planning care was already scarce. In Gregg County, where the local health center lost 60 percent of its family planning funding, the abortion rate increased by 191 percent between 2012 and 2014. The Austin American-Statesman reported that at least five counties in East Texas also saw “considerable increases” in abortions over that two-year period.
The overall abortion rate in the state dropped 14 percent between 2013 and 2016 ― but this was largely because in some low-income rural areas, like the Rio Grande Valley, women would have had to drive over 100 miles to find the nearest safe and legal abortion provider. Those women either had to seek out unsafe, do-it-yourself procedures or simply have babies they didn’t want or couldn’t afford.
President Donald Trump and the Republicans in control of Congress now want to “defund” Planned Parenthood nationwide by preventing Medicaid recipients ― who account for more than half of Planned Parenthood’s patients ― from going there for birth control and cancer screenings.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates this would cause 15 percent of women in rural areas to lose access to family planning care entirely, which in turn would lead to more unplanned pregnancies and likely more abortions.
Studies show that 40 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion, so cutting access to birth control is not the way to reduce the overall abortion rate.
Only a few moderate Republicans, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), seem to understand the flaw in this plan.
“If you’re serious about trying to reduce the number of abortions,” Collins told reporters in March, “the best way to do that is to make family planning more widely available.”
This article has been updated to reflect Packham’s current academic position.