Texas Is Failing Its Children: The Hidden Consequences of S.B. 8

Texas ranks 46th in the U.S. on overall child well-being. So when Texas Republicans say they’re pro-life—what kind of life do they mean?

An abortion rights rally outside the Supreme Court in June 2016. (Lorie Shaull / Flickr)

Over the last two months, abortion providers in Texas have shared the horror stories of people who can no longer access abortions after the passage of S.B. 8. The tragedy of a mother struggling with substance abuse, on her way to serve a prison sentence, who begged for an abortion so she didn’t have to give birth behind bars. Mothers living in poverty who simply can’t sustain another family member and want to take care of the children they already have. Even children who were raped now being forced to carry to term.

But while there is no doubt that abortion seekers are clearly suffering, let’s not forget the existing children of Texas—and the children who will be born as a result of this hellish law—who will also suffer in a state whose record on caring for children is abysmal.

Texas ranks 46th in the country on overall child well-beingOne in five—or 1,525,000—children in Texas lives in poverty.

That’s right, in a state that loves gloating about its wealth, Texas has more poor children than there are people in Montana. Black and Latinx children—whose mothers are more likely to seek an abortion—are around three times more likely to live in poverty than their white and Asian peers.

In 2018, Texas also had the largest number of uninsured children in the entire country. And a new study found that Texas was the third worst state in the country at ensuring that children were “adequately fed, equipped with the tools to learn remotely, and growing up in a financially stable home” during the pandemic. On virtually every metric that matters, Texas is failing its kids.

Where there is no support for children and families, there will also be more children in foster care. This is partly because the child welfare system conflates poverty with neglect

For example in 2018, 60 percent of reports to child welfare agencies nationwide were for neglect, not abuse. In Texas in the same year, it was 83 percent.

Texas is currently experiencing a “foster care crisis” and does not have the capacity to support the number of children in its custody. As a result, many are in unlicensed foster placements, sometimes left to sleep on the floors of state offices. Things are so bad that, after several children died in foster care, a federal judge ordered the state to implement reforms. Even the woman who oversees the state’s Child Protective Services admitted that the government was failing the children of Texas.

A ban on abortion will inevitably lead to more children being born in a state that already experienced a 16% population growth over the last decade. Even before S.B. 8, Texas had a baby boom. These additional, forced-birth children will create a greater strain on social services that will likely lead to even worse outcomes for those children and all others.

So when Texas Republicans say that they’re pro-life, what kind of life do they mean? The life of a child in Texas is one where, in a group of five friends, one of you is hungry, you have limited access to healthcare and your state ranks second to last in the percentage of people who attain a high school diploma.

On to of all this, these pro-life champions don’t seem concerned by Texas’s horrific maternal mortality rate which is higher than the national average. 18.5 women die per 100,000 live births. Experts are concerned that S.B. 8 would increase the maternal mortality rate. And, as is true nationally, if you’re a Black women, it’s far worse. So for Black children in Texas, if their mothers are unable to access abortion care, it’s three times more likely that she will die.

The “pro-life” Texas Legislature is forcing people to carry pregnancies they do not want. This is cruel enough. But forcing them to give birth to those children in a state that doesn’t care about them is unconscionable.

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Shanta Trivedi is an assistant professor of law and faculty director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She previously represented parents in Brooklyn who are embroiled in the child welfare system and as a result of that experience writes about state-sanctioned family separation focusing on issues related to race, poverty and gender.