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Abortion Providers In Texas Are Canceling Their Patients’ Appointments: ‘It Is A Sad And Dark Day’

By Tara Culp-Ressler on November 1, 2013 at 11:44 am

"Abortion Providers In Texas Are Canceling Their Patients’ Appointments: ‘It Is A Sad And Dark Day’"

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Pro-choice protesters rallied in Austin during the debate over HB 2

Pro-choice protesters rallied in Austin during the debate over HB 2

CREDIT: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Late on Thursday night, a panel of three Republican judges decided to reinstate a provision in Texas’ new sweeping anti-abortion law that will force many of the state’s clinics to close. That part of the law was blocked by a federal judge earlier this week, allowing abortion providers to breathe a sigh of relief — but Thursday’s decision reverses that injunction. Now, the restrictive provision will take effect right away.

The law in question requires abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges from local hospitals, a medically unnecessary requirement that has been blocked in other states. Since clinics are typically unable to obtain admitting privileges, this type of law is a specific attempt to force them to shut down. And since it’s taking effect immediately, it’s having an immediate impact on the abortion providers and patients in the Lone Star State.

“It is a sad and dark day for women in Texas; we have regressed backwards about 30 years,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president of Whole Women’s Health, told ThinkProgress in an emailed statement. Three of the five clinics that she runs will now be forced to close.

“The courts have given us no choice but to roll out our contingency plans for the discontinuation of abortion services in our McAllen, Fort Worth, and San Antonio facilities, effective immediately,” Hagstrom Miller explained. On Thursday, her staff began calling patients in the McAllen and Forth Worth communities to let them know that they would not be able to receive abortion care at those Whole Women’s Health locations. “This is heartbreaking for us on many levels,” she added. “Women who need our care will now have nowhere to turn, and the staff and physicians in our clinics now face furlough and likely unemployment.”

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America’s affiliate in Texas, there are at least eight cities in the state — Killeen, Harlingen, McAllen, Ft Worth, Stafford, Lubbock, Midland, and Waco — that no longer have a single abortion provider under Texas’ new law.

And the clinic closures will affect cities that aren’t on that list, too. The executive director of NARAL’s Texas branch, Heather Busby, told ThinkProgress she expects there are probably more clinics in Corpus Christi, Austin, Houston, Dallas, El Paso, and San Antonio that will have to stop providing abortion care. That means the demand for abortions in those cities will “far exceed” the capacity of the remaining clinics.

The Lilith Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides direct financial assistance to Texas residents seeking abortions, anticipates that many people across the state will wake up today to find their upcoming appointments canceled.

“We are spending this morning calling clinics to find out which ones of them will remain open, and which will be closed. We’ll also be following up with our clients who have appointments at the clinics who are closing to find out how we can help them reschedule appointments at other clinics, and what kinds of assistance they’ll need,” Lindsay Rodriguez, Lilith Fund’s president-elect, told ThinkProgress. “Some will have to travel.”

Ever since the high-profile battle over the new abortion restrictions over the summer, reproductive rights groups in Texas have been anticipating closures under the admitting privileges requirement. The new law, HB 2, first passed in July after being forced through a special legislative session. And despite the fact that Texas law gives hospitals 170 days to issue a decision on an application for admitting privileges, HB 2 is taking effect just 91 days after the special session concluded — half the time the process would normally take. Most clinics have been trying to get approved for privileges since June, but haven’t even gotten hospitals to return their calls. Some clinics have already been forced to halt their services.

In light of the impending reality under HB 2, a new nonprofit organization was formed over the summer specifically to help Texas women pay for the transportation to get to the nearest abortion clinic. Fund Texas Women has been raising money to cover bus tickets and hotel stays for the women who will need to travel hundreds of miles because there aren’t any clinics left in their hometowns. The organization’s president, Lenzi Sheible, told ThinkProgress that the implications of Thursday’s decision are “hitting us hard.”

“Our most pressing need right now is fundraising. We just don’t have the funds at the moment to be able to open our hotline and help those clients who will be most deeply impacted by this law,” Sheible explained. “We’re working to set up several fundraisers right now, but in the meantime we’re running off of individual, private donations.”

After the Lililth Fund helps their patients make new appointments at clinics that are farther away, they’ll be working with Sheible’s new group to connect patients with transportation assistance. “We are devoting as much time and energy as we can right now to supporting our clients in all ways that we can,” Rodriguez noted.

But Rodriguez pointed out that the current situation in Texas actually has implications that extend far beyond their patients in the Lone Star State. “Of course, these laws are not isolated to Texas. Restrictions that pass here are headed for other states, and Texas is a pivotal battleground for this fight.”

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