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Foster: Texas law devastating women's lives

Feb. 20, 2016 at 4 a.m.


Editor's note: This is the second of two columns looking at the impacts of HB2, which soon will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week's column explained how onerous provisions of HB2 closed nearly half of the state's 41 abortion clinics operating in 2012. On March 4, the U.S. Supreme Court is to hear arguments on secondary provisions in the law that, if ruled constitutional, will close even more clinics, leaving just 10 in Texas to serve a population of 27 million people.

The devastating impact of HB2 on Texas women is revealed in research conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. Study results show women are forced to delay procedures due to longer waits at overburdened clinics. Overall, fewer women are getting abortions while some women are taking matters in their own hands by self-inducing.

Results of the study published in "Contraception," a medical journal, were reported by Emily Crockett in Vox. The study included qualitative interviews with 23 women who had trouble making appointments at abortion clinics after HB2 was passed. Most were Latina and under age 25, with about half already having at least one child.

Five of these women had appointments that were abruptly canceled after clinics were closed. Another 15 women tried to make appointments but were turned away because clinics had closed. The other three were Texas residents who ultimately crossed the state line to have their procedures done in Albuquerque.

Of the 23, two couldn't overcome the financial and logistical obstacles that prevented them from getting an abortion elsewhere so they continued their unwanted pregnancies.

Eight women were delayed more than one week while two others were delayed so long they couldn't get an abortion until the second trimester. Those procedures are more expensive and riskier than first trimester abortions.

Most of the women surveyed had to pay more out of pocket expenses and travel greater distances than they would have if their nearby clinics stayed open. Some started driving at 3 a.m. so they could return home from a long drive to save motel expenses. Others paid from $60 to $200 for hotel rooms because they worried about cramping and bleeding on a long drive home.

Others had their privacy compromised: One 18-year-old woman didn't want to tell her parents about her abortion but realized she had no option of being discreet when she had to figure out how to get to San Antonio.

Beyond the interviews with the 23 women, the study also reported that Texas abortion providers and patients are describing chaos, confusion and heartbreak for both patients and clinic staff in the days after HB2 went into effect.

One patient, who had driven 90 miles with her daughter, was "inconsolable" when she found out her appointment had been canceled, said Ginny Braun, CEO of Routh Street Women's Health Clinic in Dallas. That clinic closed permanently in June after the Fifth Circuit Court upheld HB2.

"Had she made the trip one day earlier or not had to make two trips to the clinic because of HB2, we could have helped her," Braun said. "All we could do is cry with them, give them some phone numbers and refund her sonogram fee so at least they had enough money to drive back to Oklahoma."

The study also said providers saw an increase in the number of women trying to self-abort.

"The first week after the law changed, we started seeing an increase in patients who had tried something to end their pregnancy before coming to the clinic," said Tenesha Duncan, administrator of the Southwestern Women's Surgery Center in Dallas.

"That week a doctor found parsley in a patient's vagina. I've also talked to patients who were distraught and suicidal because they couldn't access the abortion care they needed," she added.

For providers, it's been exhausting to seesaw between opening and closing clinics, depending on which court ruled in their favor. Even if the Supreme Court rules to overturn HB2, some clinics may never reopen.

Braun said closing and reopening a clinic is no small logistical feat. They either have to lay off or try to rehire staff while dealing with expenses like insurance and taxes. She said it's not likely she'll reopen her clinic regardless of the court ruling — and that's the ultimate goal of anti-abortionists.

— John D. Foster, a Carthage resident and former editor of the Panola Watchman, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.

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