Joseph E. Potter

PotterJoseph E. Potter is a professor of sociology and faculty research associate at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a BA in Economics from Yale University (1968), an MPA in Economics and Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (1973) and a PhD in Economics from Princeton University (1975).

Much of Joe’s research over the last three decades has addressed fertility and contraceptive practice in Mexico and Brazil—two countries that have experienced dramatic demographic transitions during the last four decades. More recently, Joe’s geographic focus has expanded to include the U.S.

Joe has a distinguished record of applying demographic knowledge to policy issues in these contexts. He has designed and led several important and innovative studies that have had a significant impact on debates concerning access to family planning and abortion and the impact of policies on women’s reproductive health.

Since 2011, Joe has lead the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), undertaking research which has shaped debates about reproductive health policy in recent years. His team’s research played a central role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two abortion restrictions as unconstitutional because they created an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion.

TxPEP research has also played a prominent role in both national and state level debates regarding the consequences of excluding Planned Parenthood from federal and state subsidized family planning programs. It also has been widely used by reproductive health advocates in the state and nationally in their efforts to restore funding for family planning, and to generate public opposition to targeted regulation of abortion provider laws similar to those passed in Texas. Several of TxPEP’s reports and recommendations have been instrumental in the adoption of specific policies by legislators and state officials.

Finally, Joe’s attention to women’s contraceptive preferences, rather than simply their contraceptive use, has led to research findings demonstrating the substantial barriers women face as they seek their preferred methods of contraception.

Before TxPEP, Joe led a project which forms the basis for current efforts to allow the sale of oral contraceptive pills over the counter in the US. From 2006 to 2011, Joe was principal investigator of the NICHD-supported Border Contraceptive Access Project (R01HD047816), a longitudinal study which addressed the “natural experiment” that exists in El Paso, Texas where women may access the oral contraceptive pill either in pharmacies in Mexico without a doctor’s prescription, or through family planning clinics in El Paso. On November 20, 2012, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a committee opinion recommending that oral contraceptives should be sold over the counter in drugstores without a doctor’s prescription. This opinion drew heavily on the findings from the Border Contraceptive Access Study, and cited nearly all of the published results related to screening for contraindications, perceptions of safety, use of preventive services, and contraceptive continuation.

His past work in Brazil includes two large NICHD-funded studies about that country’s fertility transition and another about high rates of cesarean section and female sterilization. A current project explores the demography of Brazil’s indigenous population.

Joe has been at UT-Austin since 1989, and teaches courses on demographic methods and the evaluation of social policies. Before joining the faculty at UT, he held positions at the Harvard School of Public Health (1983-89), the Population Council (1976, 1979-1983), El Colegio de México (1976-1983), Princeton University (1975-1976), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (1970-71).

Outside the office, Joe may be found cycling, playing with grandchildren, or fly fishing in Montana.

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