'People don’t suddenly not need abortions anymore': Requests for pills by mail spike in Texas, study finds

Madlin Mekelburg
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Nearly six months after Texas adopted the most restrictive abortion law in the country, the number of procedures performed after six weeks of pregnancy has plummeted – but demand for self-managed abortion care has substantially increased, according to a University of Texas study released Friday.

The study looked at requests made by Texans through Aid Access, a nonprofit based in Austria that sends abortion medication through the mail, in the weeks and months after the implementation of Texas Senate Bill 8, which prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

There was a dramatic increase in requests made to the nonprofit in the week after the law took effect on Sept. 1, and a sustained increase over the next three months, with the number of average daily requests more than doubling over that period.

“It is clear that when you place restrictions on abortion access, it does not remove the need for abortion,” Dr. Abigail Aiken, an associate professor at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs and lead author of the study, told the American-Statesman. “People don’t suddenly not need abortions anymore. They still need them, and they will look for ways to find them.”

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Aiken and her team reviewed requests for abortion-inducing medication made to Aid Access from October 2020 through Dec. 31 last year, to measure the impact of SB 8 on demand for the medication. The researchers did not look at requests for the medication from other sources.

In the first week after the law went into effect, the number of average daily requests made to the nonprofit from people in Texas increased by 1,180%, jumping from an average of 10.8 requests per day to 137.7 requests per day.

Thousands of abortion opponents march through Downtown Austin, Texas in the Texas Rally for Life on Jan. 22, 2022.

After the initial influx of requests slowed, demand for the medication remained high in the three months after SB 8’s implementation. The nonprofit averaged 29.5 daily requests in October, November and December, a 174% increase from the previous daily average.

“As abortion clinics became less accessible, requests started to go up,” Aiken said.

Anti-abortion advocates have heralded SB 8 as a life-saving measure, pointing to various studies that have shown a dramatic decrease in the number of abortions occurring in Texas since September. Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization that backs the law, maintains that SB 8 "has saved an estimated 17,000 lives" in the nearly six months since it was implemented.

State data show that the number of abortions performed in the state fell by 60% in the first month after the law went into effect, dropping from more than 5,400 in August to 2,200 in September.

The law has been challenged by abortion providers, the federal government and advocates for abortion rights, but courts have declined to intervene and block the law from being enforced while the legal questions are decided.

The law lets any private individual sue abortion providers or people who aid and abet an abortion performed past six weeks gestation. Successful litigants can collect at least $10,000.