Child Welfare Lags in Texas

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 13, 2021

With all the to-do about Texas moving to virtually eliminate abortions without exception, it is a fair question whether Texas does a good job on helping children and moms once the child is born.

Generally, the answer is not so much. Texas lags other states in most measures of child welfare.

In broad terms, data over years shows that Texas does a less-than-average job in feeding and housing children, in baby wellness checks, per-student school spending, and, more generally, with food stamp eligibility. The state ranks dead last for the percentage of women aged 19–64 with access to health insurance.

Of course, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Atty. Gen. Daniel Patrick were aglow with victory in launching the new restrictive abortion law that took effect allowed after last week’s hurried overnight vote by the U.S. Supreme Court against blocking it. The law prohibits abortions after six weeks from conception without exception and incents private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone from doctors and medical personnel to Uber drivers who help, effectively ending abortion clinic operations in the state.

But there was no announcement of new or additional child or parent services in Texas, raising the obvious moral dilemma about exactly what “pro-life” means in any practical sense beyond the cynical view that this is all about partisan politics.

Texas Abortions

As debate and high emotions swirl in the political arena, I thought it might be useful to look at what we know about both abortion services and child welfare rankings in Texas. The state health department, various nonprofits and child health services all have lagging, but directional information.

From the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks information about national abortions, data shows that Texas accounts for about 6.3% of abortions in the United States, though that doesn’t account for patients who leave the state. The raw numbers have been falling in Texas, as elsewhere, since 2014, as has the proportion of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.

In 2017, Texas clinics performed 55,440 abortions: this year, there the state reports about 19,400 to date. Of course, during that time, the number of facilities and clinics offering abortions dropped as well. Since 2017, 96% of Texas counties — home to 43% of Texas women — had no clinic providing abortions.

Before this new law, there were other restrictions in place, included mandatory information sessions designed to discourage abortion requiring multiple trips, limits on private insurance coverage, a prohibition on telemedicine, an ultrasound image 24 hours before abortion to be shared with the patient, and medical services availability.

Most patients were 18–24, unmarried, somewhat more Latino than White or Black. The state data says the vast majority were at about 8 weeks, and all survived the operation.

Meanwhile, Child Services

In 2019, the Annie E. Casey Foundation‘s Kids Count Data Book, a state-by-state effort to track the status of children in the United States, ranked Texas 41st in overall child well-being based on measures of health, education, and economic well-being. That was up from 43rd in 2018, or one of the bottom 10 in the country.

There are changes year by year, but Texas has about 1.5 million children in poverty, which is double the national average.

Other areas of concern include the teen birth rate, a lack of health insurance for children and high schoolers not graduating on time.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, Texas ranks 46th among the states for child hunger, with fully 23% in 2020 living in food-insecure households. Of the 4 million facing hunger in the states, 1.5 million are children.

Much of the state is rural, where there may be higher rates of hunger because of poor geographic access to healthy food, limited or unreliable job opportunities, and high rates of un- and under-employment, the reports say.

Nevertheless, it is exactly these families who will be most affected by the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation.

Similarly, a report by PolitiFact in March found that baby wellness checks in Texas rank poorly among the states, though not as bad as the liberal group Occupy Democrats had posted on social media to insist that Texas lags significantly in maternal mortality, per-student school spending and child hunger. Texas ranked 34th among the states in the percentage of children up to age 2 who had one or more preventive doctor visits during the previous 12 months, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Child Health Bureau in 2016 and 2017. Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control says Texas is behind the nation in prenatal care.

In 2019, Texas ranked dead last in health insurance coverage for women between the ages of 19 and 64, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Texas women are uninsured at about double the national rate.

Census Bureau data shows that Texas ranked 44th in per-pupil spending for K-12 public school systems in 2019.

About all of this, Governor Abbott and Republicans are silent, simply waving the anti-abortion banner without addressing the inevitable, hypocritical results. Shame.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer