Unintended pregnancies in Texas are not at crisis level

Photo by Dave Herholz

Texas has seen some important abortion policy changes in recent years. The Texas Legislature voted to remove Planned Parenthood from the state family planning program in 2011. Additionally, after new abortion clinic regulations were signed into law in 2013, a significant number of abortion facilities in Texas closed. Texas is a good state to study these policy changes. After all, Texas has a large population of women of childbearing age that is both ethnically and economically diverse. Furthermore, the Texas Department of State Health Services does a good job providing detailed health statistics by region.

Unfortunately, most of the published research thus far has produced far more heat than light. The mainstream media and liberal advocacy groups, attempting to discredit pro-life efforts elsewhere, have argued that these new pro-life policies have led to a public health crisis in Texas. If one believes the mainstream media, unintended pregnancies, Medicaid births and teen abortions have all increased in Texas since 2011.

However, the actual data tell a different story. Between 2011 and 2014, the most recent year for which complete state level data are available for both births and abortions, the number of abortions performed in Texas fell by over 24 percent. The birthrate has remained virtually unchanged during that time, going from 14.7 to 14.8 births for every thousand women of childbearing age. Since the abortion rate fell significantly and since there was only a very slight increase in the state birth rate, it seems reasonable to say that the unintended pregnancy rate in Texas fell after Planned Parenthood was defunded.

So why is it the contention of Planned Parenthood advocates that the unintended pregnancy rate in Texas has increased? In some cases, prominent people have simply fabricated statistics. In September 2015, New York Times columnist Gail Collins cited George Washington University law professor Sara Rosenbaum as her source for a claim that unintended pregnancies were increasing in Texas. However, while Rosenbaum wrote an analysis predicting an increase in unintended pregnancies, she provided no data indicating an actual increase. When I brought this to the attention of both Collins and Rosenbaum, neither took steps to issue a correction.

In other cases, the media has aggressively spun research findings. In 2016, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study which purportedly showed a sharp increase in Medicaid-funded births in a select group of Texas counties. However, a closer look at the findings showed that in the affected counties, only 37 additional women had Medicaid-funded births. Hardly a crisis. Similarly, the Dallas Morning News recently ran an editorial by Jason Lindo praising a study which compared teen abortion trends in Texas to trends in other states. Lindo used the results to argue that there would be fewer teen abortions in Texas if Planned Parenthood remained funded. However, nowhere did Lindo mention that, in percentage terms, teen abortions in Texas have actually fallen faster than overall abortions since 2011.

Overall, since 2011 abortions have fallen significantly in Texas for both teens and adults. There is no evidence of an increase in the unintended pregnancy rate. It is unfortunate that since 2011, many media outlets have simply parroted the claims of various advocacy groups instead of presenting the actual public health data.

Michael New

Associate professor, Ave Maria University; Assoc. Scholar, Charlotte Lozier Institute