When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas' House Bill 2, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, it was a major victory for the reproductive rights movement. But, it's only now — almost a year after the ruling — that one of the Whole Woman’s Health clinics at the heart of the case has reopened.
The Texas Observer reports that Whole Woman's Health, the network of abortion clinics that legally challenged the bill, is welcoming patients again to its flagship Austin location for the first time in three years. As of now, Whole Woman's is the only abortion provider to have reopened its doors since the SCOTUS decision last summer.
About two dozen of the 44 clinics in the state of Texas closed because of HB2. The bill required abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and facilities offering abortions to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, or ASTCs. The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against the bill, saying these were medically unnecessary requirements that violated women's constitutional right to abortion.
But the damage was already done, and it's unlikely most of the clinics that closed because of the legislation will reopen in the near future.
"When you have to close a clinic, you have to sell the building or break your lease, doctors and staff have to get other jobs, you have to sell the equipment and instruments, and you have to surrender your pharmacy license, lab license, license from the health department," Amy Hagstrom Miller, owner of Whole Woman’s Health and lead plaintiff in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, told The Texas Observer. "All that stuff has to be rebuilt if and when you’re able to reopen."
The Whole Woman's clinic in Austin will start offering services on April 28, and it will now be a non-profit (that way the organization can receive donor money).
As of now, there isn't a single abortion clinic operating between San Antonio and El Paso. That means there aren't facilities available right now in a third of the state. Clinics' inability to reopen will likely continue to have a direct impact on women's access to abortion services because of the increased costs and time needed when forced to travel further to get the procedure.
A 2016 study conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that after HB2, the average one-way distance women traveled to reach the nearest abortion provider after their local clinic closed was 70 miles. (The average was only 17 miles before HB2.) Many women also reported "increased out-of-pocket costs, overnight stays, and frustrated demand for medication abortion."
So, even though the HB2 regulations were struck down by the Supreme Court, its legacy is likely to continue affecting women's reproductive rights in Texas indefinitely.