A new TxPEP research brief examines out-of-state travel to neighboring states for abortion care throughout the period Senate Bill 8 has been in effect.
Texas Senate Bill 8, a state law that prohibits abortion as early as five to six weeks of pregnancy, has forced nearly 1400 Texans a month out of state for abortion care. The research is based on patient counts from facilities that provide abortion in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma—states where large numbers of Texans have traveled after previous state restrictions went into effect.
Travel by Texans in the wake of SB 8 has created large patient loads for many destination facilities. Between Sept. 1, when SB 8 was implemented, through Dec. 31, 2021, more than 5500 people obtained an abortion at the facilities that provided data. During the same four-month time period in 2019–the most recent data available–these facilities served around 500 Texans.
Nearly half of the Texans who traveled out of state since Sept 1. received abortion care in Oklahoma, and one in four received care in New Mexico. The number of Texans seen each month in Oklahoma is more than twice the monthly average of all abortion patients seen in Oklahoma in 2020. The number of Texans seen each month in New Mexico since SB 8 went into effect has often exceeded the monthly average of all abortion patients seen in the state in 2019.
“Senate Bill 8 has not reduced the need for abortion care in Texas. Rather it has reduced in-state access,” said Dr. Kari White, associate professor of social work and sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. “Thousands of pregnant Texans are traveling hundreds of miles to abortion facilities in other states to get care and being deprived of the emotional, logistical, and medical support that could be found closer to home.”
Interviews conducted with 65 Texas residents who obtained abortion care out of state during the period in which SB 8 has been in effect show that they have experienced numerous challenges getting care, including:
- difficulties scheduling appointments in Texas while they were still eligible for in-state care,
- visits to pregnancy resource centers that discouraged abortion,
- limited availability of timely out-of-state appointments because of increased patient volume,
- complicated travel logistics that involved long journeys and overnight drives,
- increased economic hardship, including lost wages, paying for gas and food, and overnight stays for multiple days.
Interview participants, who had varying levels of knowledge about SB 8 when they began looking for an abortion, expressed anger and frustration about the ways the law compromised their autonomy and privacy. Some called the law “unfair,” “cruel,” and “inhumane.”
Researchers obtained data on Texas residents who received abortion care between August 1 and December 31, 2021 at 34 of the 44 open facilities in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. These new data undercount actual out-of-state travel by Texans for abortion care as it does not include 10 facilities in these states, or Texans who have traveled to other states for care.
In September, 2021, the first month of Senate Bill 8, the number of abortions in Texas fell by half compared to the same month in 2020. There has not been a further downward trend since September.
In spring 2022, the United States Supreme Court will issue a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that may overturn or severely undermine the right to abortion before fetal viability as established in Roe v. Wade. If abortion care is offered in fewer states, Texans will face greater distance barriers and more logistical hurdles to care.