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Demand for abortion-inducing drugs spiked during the month after Texas dramatically restricted abortion access and has remained high ever since, according to new data from a University of Texas at Austin researcher. .
The study looked at requests for abortion-inducing drugs made to Aid Access, an international nonprofit organization that provides the drugs via the Internet to people who cannot otherwise legally access the procedure. Prior to September 2021, the organization typically received an average of 10.8 inquiries per day from Texans.
Then the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, a stage at which many people are unaware they are pregnant. In the first week after the law took effect on September 1, Aid Access received an average of 137.7 daily requests from Texas, an increase of more than 1,000%.
“This large spike in requests shows us the uncertainty and chaos created by the coming into force of Senate Bill 8,” said Abigail Aiken, lead researcher on the study. “If it’s not certain that you can get to a clinic and get the care you need, people will look at what other options are available to them.”
Demand for the drugs remained higher than normal in the months that followed, Aiken found.
Medical abortion is usually a two-drug regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol that has been shown to be effective in terminating a pregnancy within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. In December, the federal government lifted the requirement that the drug must be dispensed in person, allowing it to be prescribed by telemedicine and sent by mail.
But Texas law does not allow the prescription of drugs via telemedicine or by mail and has limited its use to the first seven weeks of pregnancy.
A spokesperson for the anti-abortion group Texas Alliance for Life said the organization is looking for ways to take legal action against international or out-of-state groups like Aid Access.
“It’s disturbing for us to see people trying to find ways around the law,” spokeswoman Amy O’Donnell said. “We think it’s very important for girls and women to see a doctor in person before getting chemical abortion drugs.”
But as abortion access has shrunk in Texas, many providers say they hear from patients who feel access to the drug outside of the healthcare system is worth the potential risk.
“What option did the state give them?” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. “The same number of people still need abortions as before we started all these bans.”
Whole Woman’s Health operates four abortion clinics in Texas. For nearly six months, they were unable to provide abortions after fetal heart activity was detected, usually around six weeks pregnant.
Hagstrom Miller said there has been an increase in patients detecting their pregnancy earlier – in time to access the procedure – but clinics are still seeing less than a third of their typical caseload. Some patients can travel out of state to access abortions, but Hagstrom Miller said that’s just not feasible for most.
“Nearly 70% of our patients are already parents,” she said. “They manage the work and the children [and] school during a pandemic. They cannot travel for a few days to another state. It just means that abortion…is not on the table.
And the influx of Texans has led to long wait times at clinics in neighboring states, sometimes pushing patients beyond the window in which they can legally access care.
Hagstrom Miller said she’s not surprised there’s been an increase in demand for self-managed abortions — and the actual increase is likely more than any data can capture.
“These people are kind of invisible,” she said. “Either they order pills online or they go to Mexico. …Most of the time self-directed abortion works, especially in early pregnancy, so we’re only going to see people for whom it didn’t work.
Aiken, the researcher behind the study, said it was impossible to know how and when patients use the drugs they access through Aid Access – or how many patients end their pregnancies by other means. .
But as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to strike down constitutional abortion protections, Aiken said this data from Texas serves as a snapshot of what whole swaths of the country may be facing. .
“It’s clear from this research and many studies that just because you make it harder to get an abortion doesn’t mean the need for an abortion is going away,” she said. “And a lot of people will be looking for other ways to do that.”
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.