Texas Group Grossly Exaggerates Number of Self-Induced Abortions to Undermine Pro-Life Cause

By Arina Grossu Published on December 10, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide next year whether to dismantle Texas laws that hold abortion facilities to the same health and safety standards as other health clinics. These commonsense standards have received support from both sides of the abortion debate.

However, many in the abortion industry have fought the higher health standards aggressively, and are now hyping a new study to boost their flailing efforts to get rid of the standards. The quantitative and qualitative study published by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) claims that between 100,000 to 240,000 Texas women may at some time have attempted to self-induce an abortion. These numbers are simply not credible.

In fact, there are many errors in the study. Let’s focus on just the top ten:

  1. The report records whether women said that they or their friends have ever attempted to self-induce an abortion. The report does not record when or where the attempt took place. The attempts could refer to past self-induction attempts taking place in another state or out of country, especially (given Texas’s high Hispanic population) in Central or South America, which could have occurred even three decades ago. A more careful line of questioning would have been: Have you attempted a self-induced abortion in Texas between 2011 and 2014? What method did you employ? To what extent did you follow the procedure through? How sure were you that you wanted to carry the procedure through? What were your alternatives as you saw them? Was a facility-performed abortion an option among these? Why or why not? What were the factors that led you to attempt an induction yourself? The report, as it stands, tells us nothing about the state of abortion in Texas or the effects of the abortion facility regulations in Texas because we do not know when and where these self-abortion attempts took place. Rather the study is about a portion of the abortion history of some women living in Texas today.
  2. There are very few affirmative responses from surveyed women saying that they attempted to self-induce an abortion. This forces the certainty associated with those responses to unacceptably low levels. Of the 1,397 surveys sent, 618 surveys received no responses, and of the 779 responding women, only 13 respondents reported a self-induced abortion attempt. This large of a non-response alone could lower the percentage of those attempting self-induced abortion instead to one percent of women — rather than the 1.7 percent that the report claims. A serious statistical work would not make inferences based upon such a small response size because the fluctuations in that dozen-person sample is likely very high. An analogous, unacceptably high uncertainty holds for those respondents who suspect their friend may have self-induced an abortion.
  3. Further, the way that self-induced abortion was defined to the survey participants is vague. According to the report, “Abortion self-induction was described as follows: … Other women may do something to try to end a pregnancy without medical assistance. For example, they may get information from the internet, a friend, or family member …” Did surveyed women actually self-induce an abortion or just research self-induced abortions?
  4. The study asked Texas women between the ages of 18-49 about past self-induced abortion attempts, both of themselves and their friends. According to the CDC, which underreports the number of abortions in a state, the number of abortions in Texas between 1978 and 2014 totaled about 3 million. Applying TxPEP’s own estimates, and correcting for the fact that multiple cohorts of women have experienced legal abortion, their claim implies that self-induced abortions accounted for about 10 percent of all Texas abortions during those years. In the era of widely accessible legalized abortion, this number seems extremely high.
  5. A key finding of the study is that Latina women living on the border with Mexico and those women’s friends were “significantly more likely” to have attempted self-induced abortions, and that they are “more familiar” with them. These findings imply that the study has more to do with the folk and homeopathic medicinal practices of Latina women in the sphere of influence of indigenous friends and family. Regarding abortion, these practices include a “variety of methods, including medications from Mexico and herbs, vitamins, and teas.”
  6. The study does not quantitatively tally the reasons why women attempted self-induced abortions. What percentage of the surveyed women attempted to self-induce because of cultural practice, spousal pressure or other factors?
  7. The method of collecting the data is imprecise. For TxPEP’s lower 100,000 estimate, especially lacking are data on the location and year of the self-abortion attempts, and the fact that the definition of self-induced abortion was vague and could have been interpreted in many ways by the surveyed women. Further, TxPEP’s upper estimate of 240,000 women was obtained literally from suspicions of close friends instead of actual data. The combination of those who were “sure” their best friend had self-induced and those who “suspected” that their best friend had self-induced go into TxPEP’s number. Such speculation has no place in a study purporting to be scientific.
  8. The report does not compare the abortion practices of Latina women living on the border in Texas with the abortion practices of Latina women living on the border in other states. Given the findings of this study, it is likely that their abortion practices are comparable and based on cultural influences, regardless of the variation in abortion facility laws in those states or the availability of abortion facilities themselves.
  9. The study’s authors have a history of pro-abortion bias. The TxPEP project is an initiative of Ibis Reproductive Health, whose “top priority” is to “increase access to abortion.” Among Ibis’ other projects are keeping late-term abortion legal with its “Later Abortion Initiative” and pushing for medication abortion. Ibis’ chair, Beth Frederick, was Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of the Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s research arm, for 20 years. The University of California at San Francisco, which was also involved in this study, published a study in 2013 advocating for non-doctors to commit surgical abortions. Even more revealing is that TxPEP has a single funding source, Warren Buffett’s foundation which was renamed the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation in honor of his late wife. Through a public information request, Texas Alliance for Life obtained documentation that the Buffett Foundation has paid $4.6 million to TxPEP. The Buffett Foundation has a long history supporting Planned Parenthood and is by far its largest donor with its contribution of $231 million between 2010 and 2013. The bias of the involved parties is glaring.

What we do know is that abortion rates in Texas are falling, and this significant downward trend is true for the entire U.S. as well. The TxPEP study makes unsubstantiated claims that do not take into consideration the time, place and reason for self-induced abortion attempts and contains major methodological flaws that undermine its asserted findings. Also, those conducting and funding the study have a strong pro-abortion bias, relevant because the alleged findings are expedient for influencing the Supreme Court to strike down health and safety standards for abortion centers.

The Supreme Court need to see through the smokescreen. Women’s lives must not be jeopardized by keeping open abortion facilities with failing health and safety standards, and justifying it with shoddy and biased research studies.


Arina O. Grossu, M.A. is the director for the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, where she focuses on sanctity of human life issues, ranging from conception to natural death.

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