Anti-Choice Laws Spurring Spike in Dangerous Self-Induced Abortions November 18, 2015

Anti-Choice Laws Spurring Spike in Dangerous Self-Induced Abortions

People opposed to abortion have long made their objective apparent: they want to set us back by more than 40 years by making the medical procedure illegal. Many activists have seen that as an unlikely scenario in the courts, so they have resorted to getting legislators to regulate the practice out of existence. For some reason, they have this weird idea that making access to legal abortions impossible will mean no more abortions in America.

But new studies show just how wrong these ideologues are. Groundbreaking research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) took an in-depth look at the rate of self-induced abortions in Texas in the wake of the implementation of some of the most restrictive abortion regulations in the nation, and the results were stunning.

What is a self-induced abortion, technically speaking? It refers to efforts made by a woman to end her pregnancy outside of a doctor’s supervision, which is almost always dangerous. Sometimes it’s as simple as trying some sort of herbal old wive’s tale approach (for instance, stuffing fresh parsley up your vagina — seriously), which is never effective but can lead to all kinds of infections. Others, particularly in Texas, may head over the border to Mexico in order to obtain the “abortion pill” without a prescription. However, without proper screening, what is a safe medicinal approach with a doctor’s guidance can lead to catastrophic bleeding, devastation of the reproductive organs, or significant birth defects should the attempted abortion fail.

Still others will go for objectively dangerous solutions, like wire hangers and getting punched in the stomach.

Bottom line: self-induced abortions are bad news.

Past research had already revealed that the rate of self-induced abortion attempts among abortion patients was significantly higher in Texas than in the general population (7% vs. 2%), but studies like that are inherently limited. By speaking only to women who sought out legal abortions, they miss the women who may have self-induced or attempted to self-induce an abortion but, for any number of reasons, never found themselves in a clinic.

To correct for this bias, the new study looked at Texas women as a whole. In recognition of the fact that they might not get entirely honest answers from respondents given the stigma surrounding abortion in red states like Texas, they not only asked participants about their own experiences with self-induced abortion, but any knowledge or suspicions they may have about whether or not their friends (who are often from similar demographics) may have also self-induced.

When all was said and done, 1.7% of the respondents directly admitted to having attempted a self-induced abortion. That number may seem low, but that’s roughly 100,000 women in the state of Texas. When data related to knowledge or suspicion of friends’ attempts at self-induced abortions were included, the percentage jumped to 4.1%, or 240,000 women.

(For the record: that’s more people than the entire population of Reno, Nevada, the 89th most populated city in the country.)

What this tells us is that concerns about restrictive abortion policies returning us to the dangerous era before Roe v. Wade are well founded. It also tells us that the consequences of such a restrictive regulatory era could be much, much worse today than it was back then.

Remember: the findings of the Texas study only represent the numbers for one state. Similar restrictions are increasing across the country. What if this turns into a nationwide trend? Using the same age parameters as the Texas study, national estimates could range from 1.1 million on the low end to 2.6 million on the high end.

(Again, for the record: those numbers represent more people than the entire population of Austin and Houston, the 11th and 4th most populated cities in America, respectively.)

These numbers and estimates are frightening when put in a historical context. You have to remember that even with the extreme regulations in Texas, abortion is still legal and somewhat accessible. Even so, hundreds of thousands of women have attempted to self-induce an abortion. So what happens if abortion access functionally goes away? Nothing good.

It’s estimated that more than 1.2 million women annually sought out illegal abortions every year during the 1950s and 1960s. That means that approximately 3.3% of American women were seeking illegal abortions every year. If 3.3% of American women were to do that today, we’d be talking about more than 5.3 million American women whose lives would be at risk because politicians seem to think their personal moralistic views on a medical procedure ought to be the law of the land.

(Another for the record: that’s a million more people than you’ll find in Los Angeles, the 2nd most populated city in America.)

And make no mistake — there’s a body count associated with these dangerous procedures outside of the safety of the doctor’s office. Understanding how bad things could get takes a little work.

In 1965, the number of deaths attributed to illegal abortions was around 200. That may not seem like much until you consider three things. First, this is just what was reported, and most experts believe the number is much higher. Second, even at that number, illegal abortions accounted for 17% of maternal deaths that year. Today, there’s not a single cause of maternal death higher than 15%. Finally, in the United States, even absent an abortion ban, the maternal mortality ratio in the country has skyrocketed since 1987, when the mortality ratio was 7.2 per 100,000 births. The ratio today is 18.2 per 100,000 births.

(To put that in perspective, the last time the maternal mortality rate was this high was in 1972. Roe v. Wade was decided in January of the next year, and the ratio dropped to 15.3 per 100,000 births.)

Think it through. If death by illegal abortions, previously underreported, are functionally a non-factor in currently aggregated maternal mortality data and our maternal mortality ratio is still this high, it’s safe to assume that the number of unnecessary deaths resulting from political efforts to eliminate abortion would be horrific.

There’s nothing pro-life about that.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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