The Texas Abortion Ban: The Unwanted Consequences of a Forced Unwanted Pregnancy

Restricting access to abortion does not decrease its incidence—it only serves to hurt women and children in the process.

texas-abortion-ban-unwanted-pregnancy
An abortion rights march in Austin, Texas, in July 2013. (mirsasha / Flickr)

Let us state the obvious: The Texas abortion bill outlawed abortion for the 14.8 million women living in Texas. It banned abortions before most women know they are pregnant, at six weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The bill is unique because it incentivizes citizens to take the law into their own hands, directly suing abortion providers for up to $10,000. The bill’s ultimate goal is to decrease abortion rates. But restricting access to abortion does not decrease its incidence—it only serves to hurt women and children in the process. 

Make no mistake, the Texas ban is about more than Texas. If it continues to be upheld by the courts, this leaves the possibility of implementing the same—or harsher—restrictions in other states. It is estimated that abortion will be “effectively banned” in 26 states nationwide within the next few years. Several states have tried repeatedly in the past to implement restrictions on abortion access, which until this point have been rejected by state and federal courts. The Texas ban could quickly become a nationwide ban.

Abortion is one of the most common and safest medical procedures performed, which makes a ban of any form catastrophic. Roughly 45 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and 61 percent of unintended pregnancies globally end in elective abortion. Restricting access to such a common procedure will have significant health and safety implications.

Anti-abortion groups spread unfounded statements saying that limiting access to abortion decreases abortion rates. However, evidence has shown that this is not the case. Inability to obtain a safe medical abortion is likely to result in higher rates of unsafe, self-induced abortions—the same trend seen in other countries with highly restrictive abortion laws. 

Unsafe abortions are extremely dangerous and increase the risk of infection and sepsis, uterine perforation, hemorrhage, and damage to the genital tract and internal organs, consequences of inserting a sharp object into the vagina. The complications from a self-induced abortion are often fatal. In fact, in countries where abortion is already illegal, self-induced abortions and abortions performed in unsafe, non-medical circumstances cause 8–11 percent of all maternal deaths, or about 30,000 maternal deaths per year.

Unwanted pregnancies carried to term also pose considerable risks for the mother. Complications such as post-partum hemorrhage, amniotic fluid embolism, uterine rupture and eclampsia can be fatal. Complications such as perineal tears, incontinence, and the need for major surgery, like a Cesarean section, can take a significant toll on the physical and mental health of a woman.

Overall, the risk of death from a legal, first-trimester abortion (in 2019, 92.7 percent of all reported abortions in the U.S. occurred within the first trimester) is 13 times less than the risk of continuing the pregnancy, labor and delivery. Put differently: Roughly one in 11,000 women will die from complications of childbirth, whereas only one in 167,000 women will die from complications of legal, first-trimester abortion. The data is clear: Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and far safer than continuing an unwanted pregnancy.

Roughly one in 11,000 women will die from complications of childbirth, whereas only one in 167,000 women will die from complications of legal, first-trimester abortion.

Texas has legally endorsed forced pregnancies with the intent of saving future children’s potential lives. With this in mind, let’s look at the life these children will encounter once born.

  • Texas is ranked the fifth-worst state for overall child well-being. 
  • Over 1.5 million Texas children live in poverty and/or food insecurity, 21 percent and 23 percent respectively.
  • One in four Texas children experiences multiple adverse childhood experiences like abuse, neglect, domestic violence, poverty, separation from parent, trauma or others.
  • Additionally, 22 percent of Texas parents lack health insurance and, consequently, nine percent of Texas children also lack coverage. 

So what becomes of a child of an unwanted pregnancy in Texas? They enter the foster care system. Since 2020, there have been almost 15,000 children in Texas CPS custody, most in foster homes, but hundreds with no place to go. Texas officials state that it is illegal to house children in unlicensed facilities. However, as of 2021, there is currently nowhere else for them to go. In October of 2021, 297 foster children spent at least one night in an unlicensed facility, with the average length of stay being 18 days. This is two times as many as in 2020 and eight times as many as in 2019 during the same month.

A decade-long lawsuit recently concluded that Texas foster children staying at unlicensed facilities are at increased risk for serious harm, including human trafficking and sexual abuse, as well as suicidal ideation and self-harm. Lack of funding and tighter regulations also presents an issue as private facilities continue to shut down, leading to fewer “beds” for foster children. Despite these harrowing statistics, Texas lawmakers continue to prioritize limiting access to abortion instead of legislative efforts and government support to address high poverty levels and decreased access to healthcare. If this bill is upheld, other states will follow suit with unfortunate outcomes for both women and children across the nation. 

Unplanned pregnancies drive the high rate of abortion in the US and globally. If we want to decrease abortion numbers, an appropriate goal would be decreasing the rate of unwanted pregnancies. So, how do we get there? 

We propose data-driven solutions. First, increasing access to and insurance coverage for the most effective forms of birth control, long-acting reversible contraceptives, like IUDs. Unlike the traditional pill, which is only 91 percent effective with typical use, an IUD is more than 99 percent effective. One of Planned Parenthood’s services is free contraception counseling and placement of IUDs because, unfortunately, many insurance plans do not fully cover expensive IUDs.

Second, comprehensive sex education in schools. Whether a teacher teaches a high schooler about safe sex or not, kids are experimenting. As of 2018, 40 percent of U.S. high schoolers have had sex. Abstinence-only education does not work; it only ignores the problem and misses the opportunity to teach kids how to prevent the consequences of sex, namely unintended pregnancy. Finally, we have to put our time, money and effort into the areas that matter: living, breathing children. The state of the foster care system and social safety nets taking care of families with children is abysmal. Texas, when do you plan to spend your energy and money on these priorities? 

Legislation needs to focus on preventing unintended pregnancy before it happens and taking care of living children—not on restricting access to safe and proper reproductive healthcare.

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About , , and

Kimberly Hernandez is a first time mother, third year medical student, and aspiring ob-gyn physician. She currently is a lead volunteer for Planned Parenthood advocating for women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.
Sarah Swiezy is a fourth year medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine. She is currently applying to residencies in OBGYN. Her passions include protecting women’s reproductive rights and taking long walks with her husband and dog.
Rozena Shirvani is a first year medical student born and raised in Texas. She volunteers at her community’s low income clinic and is interested in women and minority health advancement
Rebecca Anderson is a third year medical student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. She is passionate about women's health and advocating for change. She is pursuing a career in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.