Texas' State Of Women's Rights Could Get Even Worse In 2016

What abortion access could look like for Texas women if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to uphold HB2, a state law passed in 2013.
In August 2014, Rebecca was a student living in Denton, TX, when she discovered she was six weeks' pregnant and unready to start a family. She decided to have an abortion. “I had to first travel to a clinic about an hour's drive away for them to confirm with an ultrasound, even though I had already gotten one in Denton,” she said. “I had just sold my car and had to secure a ride to a clinic over an hour away, outside of Fort Worth, for the actual procedure.”

Rebecca, now 27, had to wait until she was 10 weeks' along for an initial ultrasound at Planned Parenthood in Dallas. Then, she said, “I had to schedule an appointment for several weeks later (they were fully booked), when I was 15 weeks' pregnant — I just made the cutoff. That took some time because I needed to find a ride, request off from work, et cetera.”

Because of long wait times for appointments, Rebecca nearly wasn’t able to have her operation performed within the legal time frame of 20 weeks or earlier. “The Fort Worth clinic that performed the abortion was one of under 20 that was open at the time. If I had found out when I was further along, who knows if I would have been able to get the procedure performed in time. The whole thing from start-finish was an all-day ordeal. Another day taken off of work, too,” she said. “The procedure itself took all of 10 minutes, tops. But I spent countless hours in transit, working out logistics, and waiting.”

If Texas’ House Bill 2 is upheld when the U.S. Supreme Court hears Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole this coming spring, Rebecca’s story will be just one of many, as millions of women will be forced to travel great distances, wait, and jump through hoops to receive safe abortion services. Those in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley — especially low-income women — will be forced to carry unsafe and unwanted pregnancies to term, or else endanger their lives by performing self-inducing abortions.

Prior to 2011, when then-Gov. Rick Perry cut funding for family-planning clinics by two-thirds, the reality for a woman in need of an abortion was drastically different from what she faces today.

In 1992, in Lubbock, a city located in the northwestern part of Texas, Elizabeth was three-to-four weeks' along when she had her procedure. Getting an abortion at that time did not require travel. She said, “It was all relatively easy. I called up, made an appointment, and was sent through almost immediately after I arrived. The doctor and nurses were very kind and made me feel human.”

Even as recently as 2012, access was relatively good in urban areas. Kelly, an Austin native who was attending college in Colorado, said she was five weeks' along when she found out she was pregnant, and was able to come home a week later to have an abortion. “I had my first appointment at eight weeks' pregnant," she said. "I basically went in to a clinic in South Austin, they described my options, and I decided I wanted to have a medical abortion.”

Despite being required to watch a video she described as “anti-abortion propaganda” prior to making her official decision, the care she received was relatively quick and easy. “I had a follow-up appointment one week later where I took the pill to end the pregnancy, then they gave me the pill to expel the pregnancy, as well as some pain relievers, and instructions for how to take care of myself at home. My insurance actually covered about 90% of it, which I remembered really shocked me!” Kelly said.

Since HB2 passed in 2013, more than one-third of Texas’ abortion clinics have closed, leaving just 17 total operating clinics in the entire state. (Prior to HB2, there were 41 abortion clinics in Texas.)

HB2 is one of dozens of statutes — called TRAP laws — that squeeze clinics through onerous and medically unnecessary restrictions. First, all Texas abortion doctors are required to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. Second, all clinics must now meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and abortions 20 weeks' along or further are illegal. Additionally, medication abortion — an early, nonsurgical procedure done with pills — requires up to four visits with the same doctor, and it is illegal to take those medications without a prescription from an authorized doctor.

Though the situation is bleak for women’s reproductive rights, there is still hope when Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole heads to the Supreme Court in March. If the court rules to uphold the strict requirements of the bill, all but 10 clinics will shut their doors for good, leaving a population of 1 million Texas women of reproductive age more than 200 miles from the nearest abortion clinic, and nine of those 10 would be located in major cities. That means no clinics at all south or west of San Antonio.

Jan Soifer, now a candidate for judge of the 345th District Court in Travis County, is a member of the legal team that fought to get Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole to the Supreme Court. She told Refinery29, “You can’t walk into a place that’s not an ambulatory surgical center to get abortion pills. When I heard this, I thought this must be a mistake, that can’t be right. There’s no procedure necessary. It’s just handing someone some pills. Why do you need to be in an operating center? If this law goes into effect, turning a clinic into a full-blown ambulatory surgical center I think on average costs $2 million additionally.”

“I remember how important Roe v. Wade was, and stories of women dying in back alleys before abortion was legal and safe, and I am concerned we will go back to those days before Roe v. Wade,” Soifer said. “Women self-inducing abortions. Women are going to die as a result, and it’s hard to believe that in 2015, we could go back, but that could happen.”

It’s not just Texas grappling with restricted abortion access — as reported in The Texas Tribune, “A decision in the Texas case would also determine the constitutionality of restrictions in place in other areas of the country.” Recently, in Tennessee, a woman was charged with attempted murder after trying to abort a 24-week-old fetus with a coat hanger. The New York Times reported, “Tennessee law permits abortions up to the point of fetal viability, and later if the woman’s life or health is at risk. But, as in many states, legislators have imposed regulations that have forced some clinics to shut down.”

Bill Kelly, the regional field manager for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 2011 to 2014, has been close to the political fight from Day One, in charge of organizing political activities for the organization, and he believes people both in Texas and in the rest of the country can do something about women’s reproductive rights by simply voting.

He said, “Texas has the lowest voter-participation rate in the nation. If more people in the state cared, we would have better results. I would encourage people to take it as a personal responsibility not only for themselves but also for their family and friends. If you’re not voting, you’re not a part of that conversation.”

JD Gins, the executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party in Austin, helped organize the rallies, the protests, and the march to the Texas State Capitol when Wendy Davis filibustered for more than 12 hours against an anti-abortion bill. He witnessed people he’d never seen before come out in droves, and believes if that level of support could be harnessed again, there’s a chance for women’s reproductive rights in Texas. "That, in my opinion, was the first wave of people waking up and seeing that their voice matters," Gins said. "Although the outcome wasn’t ideal, I think a lot of seeds were planted. There’s a lot of people who were engaged in the political process for the first time — a whole generation of folks in Texas.”

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