A new Texas law that prohibits abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected has led to a 50 percent decline in abortions in the state, according to a new University of Texas study.
Researchers at the university's Texas Policy Evaluation Project studied data from state clinics and found that abortions in September – the first full month the law was in effect – plummeted 49.8 percent compared to the same month one year earlier.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in an emergency appeal from abortion clinics and the Biden administration, each of which is asking the justices to block the law. It is not known when the court will rule.
The law requires abortion doctors to test for a fetal heartbeat. If one is detected – which typically occurs at about six weeks of pregnancy – then abortion is banned except in cases of a medical emergency.
The law's unique structure has made it difficult to challenge in court. The law gives sole enforcement power to citizens, who under the law can sue anyone who aids in an illegal abortion. Damages of up to $10,000 are allowed.
"This is the most restrictive state-level abortion law in effect in the U.S., and it is expected to have a substantial impact on the number of facility-based abortions provided in Texas," the study said.
The 49.8 percent decrease is "larger than the 13 percent decline that occurred following the 2013 implementation of an omnibus abortion bill, House Bill 2 (HB2), which required physicians who provided abortion care to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, among other restrictions, and resulted in the closure of over half of Texas' abortion facilities," the study said.
It also is larger "than the 38 percent decrease in abortions that occurred following Texas' March 23, 2020, Executive Order, which prohibited most abortions for a period of 30 days at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic."
Meanwhile, the study found a 28 percent increase in abortions in August – the month prior to the law going into effect – compared to August 2020. The increase "likely reflects facilities' expanded hours to accommodate more patients needing care in anticipation of" the law taking effect on September 1.
More than 40 percent of women seeking an abortion in Texas do not do so until after six weeks of pregnancy, the study said.
Texas Right to Life has said the law is "saving lives."
"We are optimistic as the Supreme Court examines these legal challenges to the Texas Heartbeat Act," said Texas Right to Life legislative director John Seago. "... We are hopeful the justices will clarify that these current legal attacks on this life-saving law are invalid."
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.