Since September 2021, the Texas Heartbeat Act has protected unborn children from abortion after a heartbeat can be detected—as early as six weeks of gestation.
It became the first enforceable law in the United States to protect unborn life within the first trimester since Roe v. Wade. In fact, the law went into effect nearly 10 months before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
While previous attempts in other states to enact heartbeat laws were struck down by courts, the Texas Heartbeat Act’s novel enforcement approach hinged on civil action by private citizens, rather than direct government enforcement.
Ultimately, courts allowed the Texas Heartbeat Act to remain in effect, even before Dobbs.
After the June 2022 Dobbs decision, Texas went on to protect unborn children from the moment of conception. But in the 10 months before Dobbs, the Heartbeat Act was the nation’s most protective law. During that time, thousands of lives were saved from abortion, and the law laid valuable groundwork to demonstrate the lifesaving impact of strongly protective pro-life laws.
Before then, abortion had been legal in Texas up to 22 weeks.
Now, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association quantifies just how many lives the Texas Heartbeat Act has protected from abortion.
Crunching the Numbers
According to the study, an estimated 9,799 more babies were born in Texas between April and December of 2022 as a result of the Texas Heartbeat Act.
That adds to findings from a separate study last year that found that the number of abortions obtained by Texas residents (the combined total of both in-state abortions and out-of-state abortions obtained in six bordering states) fell by approximately 12% in the six months after the Heartbeat Act was implemented, compared with the same six-month period in the year before the law was in place.
The authors of the more recent study looked at monthly birth counts at the state level. Using statistical methods and monthly birth data from all 50 states, they estimated what the number of births in Texas would have been had the Heartbeat Act not been implemented.
Additional factors—such as age, race, education, and Medicaid status—were used to help the statistical model to obtain more accurate predictions. The estimates were then compared with the actual monthly birth counts. The difference between the actual number of births and the model-predicted number of births represents the number of additional births that resulted from the Heartbeat Act.
The result? There were nearly 10,000 more births in Texas over the observed period as a result of the heartbeat law. Those births are more than a statistic. Each one represents a precious, irreplaceable person.
The study used a statistical method known as synthetic control modeling. It can be used to estimate the effect a treatment (such as a policy change) has on a data trend over time. With synthetic control models, a statistical model is estimated using data from both the state where a new policy is implemented and a collection of controls (such as the other states where the policy was not implemented). Other factors thought to be associated with affecting trends in the data can additionally be incorporated into the model as covariates.
The resulting model can then be used to create a synthetic counterfactual data trend for the treated observation. In other words, the model can predict what the trends in the data would have been if the policy change had not been implemented.
The predicted values from the model can then be compared with the data actually observed after a new policy is implemented, and tests can be run to see whether such changes post-policy are statistically significant.
Pro-Life Laws Matter
As the recent study shows, there is a meaningful decline in the number of abortions when states enact laws to protect life early in pregnancy.
While we do not yet have data on how many abortions were obtained by Texas residents out of state, the number of lives saved since Dobbs could be even greater. Since Dobbs, three of the states bordering Texas (Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma) have also protected children from conception, reducing the number of entry points for out-of-state abortions for Texas residents.
Since Dobbs, 14 states now protect unborn children from conception. An additional state, Georgia, protects children from the moment a heartbeat can be detected. Other states, such as South Carolina, Iowa, and Florida, are actively litigating similar laws. If nearly 10,000 lives were saved thanks to one state’s heartbeat law in just nine months from April to December of 2022, how many more lives have been saved since Dobbs? The answer is, hopefully, many.
That said, dangerous do-it-yourself chemical abortion pills pose the single greatest threat to protecting life in a post-Roe America. After all, some women in pro-life states are obtaining chemical abortion pills from illegal, out-of-state sources. Another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that requests for abortion pills from an international bad actor increased in pro-life states after Dobbs.
Beyond preventing abortions within their own borders, pro-life states must continue to foster a culture of life more broadly to discourage abortions. States should enforce existing laws to prevent mailing abortion pills and hold bad actors accountable.
Every life is a precious gift. The data is clear: Bold pro-life laws save lives. Policymakers must continue to press on until every life is valued and protected.
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