February 4, 2023

Pro-life advocates just wrapped up the 50th annual March for Life in Washington. Here in Texas, the legislature should grapple with much-needed changes to the state’s abortion ban, since some of the talk about medical emergencies has created confusion in the medical community about when and how to treat pregnant women with labor problems.

It was interesting to observe abortion policy in Texas, one of the first states to essentially ban the procedure at six weeks of pregnancy, even before the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision restoring abortion policy to the states. After that ruling, the Texas Trigger Act made performing an abortion a crime and allowed penalties in the form of fines and imprisonment.

Texas has been labeled for its politics in many ways, including extreme. But what has actually happened since 2021? Is Texas Overrun With Babies? Is there a thriving underground abortion service? Are there hundreds of lawsuits against abortion providers? Texas is more livable than ever, but some law changes should still be made to protect women.

Anti-abortion activists march in front of the US Capitol during the March for Life in Washington on Friday, January 20, 2023.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Anti-abortion activists march in front of the US Capitol during the March for Life in Washington on Friday, January 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The Guttmacher Institute, a political organization focused on reproductive health, estimates that 55,440 abortions were performed in Texas in 2017. That’s a lot – 159 a day. Just 68 abortions were performed on Texas residents in the state as of July 2022, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Kentucky and Tennessee from April to August. That’s an incredible drop.

If numbers alone are to be the judge, pro-life advocates and policymakers have succeeded. However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story — and they shouldn’t.

Through the Lozier Institute, a policy organization focused on data and medical research, Texas births also increased 3% when comparing Texas births from March 2022 to July 2022 to the previous three years in that time span.

Abortions did not entirely disappear under Texas policy. When the initial six-week ban went into effect in September 2021, “Planned Parenthood clinics in the five states neighboring Texas saw a nearly 800% increase in abortion patients,” particularly in Colorado and Oklahoma. According to the Society of Family Planning, states around Texas where abortion is still legal saw a slight 3% increase.

“Nevertheless, increases in the number of abortions in states where abortion was legal did not offset the declines in states where abortion was banned,” the group added. So even additional out-of-state abortions didn’t come anywhere near the number that used to occur in Texas. Even with the abortion lawsuits, that number was low. In December, a San Antonio judge dismissed a case against a vendor because the person who filed the lawsuit had no connection with the vendor, in direct violation of the law.

Pro-life clinics that help women with unplanned pregnancies, often funded in part by government grants and donations, are busier than ever. Pro-life advocates must continue to help pregnant women and those raising babies.

The impact is positive, but there is still a need for the law to better define medical emergencies and perhaps even adjust the language that prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

There are a handful of stories of women in unusually precarious situations where the mother’s membranes have ruptured prematurely and the baby is underdeveloped but the heartbeat is persistent, the mother is in the process of miscarrying, or she is critically ill or almost septic. In these cases, based on the wording of the law, doctors chose not to induce labor immediately, but to “wait” until the woman was closer to a “medical emergency.”

Because that term is vague and subjective — it’s literally the only term the law uses — more detail could help doctors and other providers ensure they’re not saving a woman with a dying fetus from sepsis by waiting to be sued or be prosecuted. A woman should not fight for her life after losing her baby.

From the stories, doctors suggest risky delays and complications. Patients often face “obstetric conditions such as ectopic pregnancy, incomplete miscarriage, placental problems, and premature rupture of membranes.” Perhaps these specific cases and formulations, which contain a number of similar ones, could be added for clarification.

The intent of the Heartbeat Act is to save the unborn child, not push mothers to the brink of death as doctors try to avoid litigation. That needs to change. Texas does not promote a culture of life by reducing abortions to almost zero while mothers are afraid to conceive and endure an agonizing, complicated pregnancy due to a vaguely worded law.

Even so, pro-life advocates should remain content and hopeful. More babies are being born than at any time in the last 50 years, and that’s a good thing.

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