Mainstream pro-choice politicians often say that their goal for abortion policy is for it to be “safe, legal, and rare.” As if that standard were not low enough, one state’s crusade to virtually outlaw abortion has made abortion less safe, and teen childbearing less rare. Texas, in fact, has gotten it down to a science, and handed Congress a blueprint for undermining women’s health nationwide.
While conservatives in Washington have tried for years to defund Planned Parenthood and limit federal support for reproductive-health care, Texas has pioneered a model for sabotaging the state’s family-planning services through severe budget cuts and paralyzing regulations. And we’re now seeing the effects of the state’s latest, unprecedented attack on funding for Planned Parenthood and other low-cost reproductive-health care programs. According to new economic research, the impact has been anything but “pro-life.”
According to an analysis by Miami University economist Analisa Packham, Texas’s anti-abortion crusade has been successful in one way: undermining family-planning services. But its underlying puritanical social agenda isn’t quite working as planned: Teen birth rates are up. Moreover, the jump in teen moms has been concentrated in poor communities. Basically, the religious right’s war on abortion has resulted in more teen moms, and more poor young families.
Packham’s study, which tracked childbirth rates in the three years following the enactment of the 2011 measures, shows that “defunding Texas family planning clinics led to a 3.4 percent increase in teen birth rates over four years. These effects are driven by increases in teen childbearing 2 to 3 years following the initial funding cuts and are concentrated in relatively high poverty counties.”
Conservative lawmakers have claimed that anti-abortion policies have led to a gradual decline in teen birth rates across the state over the past generation. But Packham’s analysis paints a more nuanced picture: While there has been a downward trend, Packham’s study reveals that Texas’s net decline in teen births reflects national declines since the 1990s, but that this otherwise progressive trend been offset by the state’s recent regressive anti-abortion policies.
The study punctuates a growing body of research tracking high rates of unintended pregnancy and teen childbirth in the South. Another measure of the social cost of this trend is that Texas leads the country in public spending related to social costs of unintended pregnancy—actually outspending liberal California by about 50 percent.