As Rick Perry Prepares To Sign New Abortion Restrictions, Clinics Brace For Massive Shutdowns

Early on Saturday morning, the Texas legislature approved a package of abortion restrictions that have been the subject of massive protests over the past several weeks. The legislation bans abortions after 20 weeks and imposes harsh regulations on abortion clinics that will force most of them to shut down.

Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), who called two special sessions specifically to give lawmakers enough time to pass the anti-abortion bill, has already promised to sign it into law. During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Perry dismissed state Sen. Wendy Davis’ (D-TX) assertion that the harsh new regulations will force 90 percent of the state’s abortion clinics to close. “I don’t agree with her premise, and I don’t agree with her numbers. And I think history will prove that she is wrong by asserting that,” Perry said.

Regardless of the governor’s opinion, however, the Guttmacher Institute confirms that Texas’ new law will be one of the harshest in the nation. About 26 states currently require abortion clinics to make unnecessary updates to their facilities to bring them in line with surgical standards, an increasingly popular anti-choice tactic to force abortion clinics to close. Of those states, just four currently have standards as stringent as the ones included in Texas’ bill.

Abortion providers in Texas are already bracing for impending shut-downs. Whole Woman’s Health, an organization that runs five clinics in Texas, estimates that making the necessary updates under the new standards — which would involve widening the hallways to accommodate hospital stretchers — will cost $1.4 million for one of its 4,000-square-foot facilities in McAllen. Relocating to a new building would cost $3 million. Another one of the organization’s clinics in Beaumont can’t be renovated at all, so there’s no choice except to move.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Women’s Health, says her organization can’t afford that. She’s planning to close the McAllen and Beaumont locations.

And Hagstrom Miller is hardly the only one feeling the crunch. In West Texas, the Planned Parenthood Women’s Health Center estimates that the unnecessary upgrades will cost as much as $500,000 for each room — much more than it can afford. Lubbock performs about 60 abortions each month for poor women who can’t afford a trip to a different city, and closing it down would have a devastating effect on those low-income women’s access to care.

“People are really discouraged,” the Planned Parenthood clinic’s director, Angela Martinez, said.

According to Texas’ health department, about 72,500 abortions are performed in Texas each year. The busiest clinics currently perform up to 4,000 each year — but, under the new restrictions, the handful of clinics left in the state will have to take on additional patients. In order to keep up with the current demand, those clinics will need to increase their services to conduct about 14,400 abortions annually. Hagstrom Miller says many smaller clinics can’t accommodate that huge increase, and there will likely be a huge backlog of women waiting to receive reproductive care.

Reproductive health advocates have repeatedly warned that without access to safe abortion care in clinics, Texas women will resort to unsafe options. Many women are already traveling to the Mexico border to buy abortion-inducing herbal remedies on the black market. Lucy Felix, a community educator with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, told the New York Times that many of the women she works with end up in the ER after buying those unregulated pills at flea markets.