“I didn’t have any money to go to San Antonio or Corpus. I didn’t even have any money to get across town. Like I was just dirt broke. I was poor,” a 24-year-old woman living in Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley told researchers about giving herself an abortion rather than going to a clinic. Though it’s not surprising that poverty leads women to make desperate, often dangerous gambles with their reproductive health, research on self-induced abortions is extremely rare. On Tuesday the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) released a groundbreaking study on the subject, and the results are devastating.
Of the 779 Texas women surveyed, 22 percent said their best friend, someone else they knew, or they themselves had self-induced or attempted to self-induce an abortion. (Asking about subjects’ close friends is a method that’s been used to get at the data for a subject women are often hesitant to talk about. Researchers say subjects are more comfortable candidly discussing a decision made by a friend and are more likely to share demographic data like class or race.)
Applied to the proportion of women between the ages of 18 and 49 living in Texas, the data suggest that somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 women have attempted to self-induce. (The lower figure counts only women who reported their own attempts; the higher one includes women who reported the actions of friends.)
Many of the women who attempted to self-induce would have preferred to obtain an abortion at a clinic but felt it was logistically or financially out of reach. “This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB2 [the law that the Supreme Court has recently agreed to address. Laws like these] pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, a TxPEP co-investigator and professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. Self-induced abortions are more common among Latina women and those experiencing poverty.
As abortion providers who practiced before Roe v. Wade have explained, laws preventing abortion often don’t stop abortion. According to researchers, the most common method for self-inducing is obtaining misoprostol on the black market. Other methods reported included homeopathic remedies, getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills. One women who had gotten an abortion previously at her now-closed local clinic attempted to self-induce with herbs. When the herbal-concoction method did not work, she was forced to travel 150 miles to a clinic for her termination. Study participants described fear that they’d be arrested for self-inducing or that they’d unintentionally harm themselves. As one woman detailed:
It started off slow and … went from zero to sixty real quick and it was just like really painful, intense cramping. It was the worst cramping I’ve ever had and probably one of the worst pains I’ve gone through. And there was also the fact that I’m doing it at home … there’s always that slight uncertainty of like I don’t really know what I’m doing.
Thankfully, she survived, but her story will become increasingly common as more clinics are shut down. Dr. Grossman explained, “As clinic-based care becomes harder to access in Texas, we can expect more women to feel that they have no other option and take matters into their own hands.”
*An earlier version of this story's headline stated 10,000 rather than 100,000 women. We regret the factual error.