Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused the Department of State Health Services in Texas of purposely withholding state abortion statistics for 2014. The Department of State Health Services has indicated that the number of abortions performed in Texas declined in 2014, but has not yet made their full report public. The ACLU is insisting that the state release the 2014 report and suggested they are willing to pursue legal action. This story has been reported by a number of news outlets including The Texas Tribune and Politico.
The 2014 data are interesting for a variety of reasons. The year 2014 marks the first full year during which the state implemented provisions of the abortion law known as HB2. HB2 was passed by the Texas legislature in 2013 and was the same bill that motivated then-State Senator Wendy Davis to launch an extensive filibuster in the Texas State Senate. HB2 requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of an abortion clinic. It also requires clinics to maintain the same standards as an ambulatory surgical center.
The Supreme Court is reviewing the constitutionality of HB2 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case brought by Texas abortion facilities against the state. A decision in that case could come as early as this week. It is possible that the Department of State Health Services is concerned that a large decline in the Texas abortion rate may provide evidence that the law is posing an undue burden on Texas women—and thus give the U.S. Supreme Court reason to strike down the law.
This situation is interesting for a couple reasons. The ACLU has never shown any interest in abortion reporting previously. For instance, ACLU has remained silent as California has refused to report any abortion data to the Centers for Disease Control since 1997. The ACLU has not complained when other states refused to release data to the CDC. Additionally, the ACLU was silent in early 2011 when the CDC delayed publishing their annual “Abortion Surveillance” report and a CDC spokesman indicated that there were “no plans” for abortion data to be released.
That said, any concerns by the Texas Department of State Health Services are likely unfounded. A number of states have seen substantial abortion declines in recent years—even blue states with few pro-life laws and no shortage of abortion facilities. For instance, since 2010 Hawaii has seen an abortion decline of nearly 30 percent. Additionally, New Mexico, Connecticut, Nevada, and Alaska have all experienced abortion declines of over 20 percent. Furthermore, both the Texas abortion rate and the number of abortion clinics in Texas have been falling for a long time. As such, a decline in the incidence of abortion in Texas, by itself, does not provide evidence that HB2 is causing an undue burden on Texas women.
All in all, pro-lifers have been frustrated with abortion reporting requirements for a long time. Federal reporting requirements are virtually nonexistent. Additionally, a 2012 Lozier Institute report found great disparities in the quality, reliability, and timeliness of abortion data released by various state health departments. Furthermore, accurate data on the incidence of abortion would be helpful for a variety of public health reasons. It would assist all researchers to better evaluate the impact of pro-life laws, contraception programs, and sex education curricula. In the name of transparency and good government, the ACLU should encourage not just Texas, but all states and the federal government to improve their reporting of abortion data.
Michael J. New is a Visiting Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New