CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Three more reproductive health care facilities in Texas have been forced to permanently close in the wake of a new state law that imposes stringent restrictions on abortion providers. The clinics are located in communities with high rates of poverty and uninsurance, leaving many vulnerable Texas women with no ready access to reproductive services.
Two of the shuttered clinics are operated by Whole Woman’s Health, the largest independent abortion provider in Texas. That group used to operate five clinics in the state — but now, that number is shrinking to three. The founder of Whole Woman’s Health, Amy Hagstrom Miller, announced the closure of her facilities in McAllen and Beaumont in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday evening.
“After serving women in these communities for over 10 years, Texas politicians have forced us to shut our doors. Tonight, Texas has gone from 22 clinics to 20,” Whole Women’s Health confirmed on its Facebook page.
With the closure of another independently owned clinic in Harlingen, the Lone Star State is down to just 19 abortion clinics in the entire state. That’s a dramatic difference from where the reproductive health landscape stood just a few years ago. Back in 2011, there were 44 facilities in Texas that offered abortion care.
New restrictions on abortion providers went into effect at the beginning of November. Now, abortion doctors are required to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, a medically unnecessary requirement that’s often impossible for doctors to meet. Nonetheless, the doctors who continue to practice without admitting privileges are at risk of getting their medical license suspended. So dozens of clinics — including Whole Women’s Health facility in McAllen — were forced to halt their abortion services in the fall.
But that’s not the only burdensome restriction in Texas’ new law. Starting this September, abortion clinics will be required to bring their facilities in line with ambulatory surgical centers — which typically involves making expensive and unnecessary renovations, like widening hallways and installing water fountains. With decreased patient loads, abortion doctors out of work, and new building codes looming, some clinic owners like Hagstrom Miller simply don’t have the funds to remain open.
“It may have taken me a little too long to accept it,” Hagstrom Miller told Maddow. “I don’t back down easily because the need is still here. That’s what’s so heartbreaking.”
Currently, just six abortion clinics in the entire Lone Star State meet the standards to qualify as an ambulatory surgical center. Reproductive health providers don’t mince words about what that means for the women who live there. More clinics are expected to close.
“As a result of additional provisions of this law, the number will likely decrease to six as of September 1,” Charlotte Taft, the director of a national organization of independent abortion providers and allies called the Abortion Care Network, said in statement. “Services will only be in the largest cities. There will be hundreds of miles without any safe abortion care. With a population of nearly 27 million people, this is a state of emergency for Texas women.”
The clinic closures are having a disproportionate impact on low-income and rural women in Texas, many of whom have no means to travel several hours to the nearest clinic. Two of the clinics that recently announced they’re going out business, the facilities in McAllen and the Harlingten, are located in the Rio Grande Valley, an impoverished border community that lacks access to most basic health services.
Now, the Rio Grande Valley doesn’t have a single clinic left, and women will be forced to travel up to two and half hours to Corpus Christi to get to the nearest abortion facility. But once the additional regulations take effect in September, that clinic will be gone, too. Then, women living in one of the poorest areas of the United States will need to make a three and a half hour trip to a surgical center in San Antonio.
As a result of rounds of budget cuts, the women in this rural community no longer have access to a health care safety net. Many of them are going without basic care like birth control or cancer screenings. When they encounter an unintended pregnancy, an increasing number of these women are crossing the border into Mexico to buy abortion-inducing medication on the black market. The rate of self-induced abortions in the Rio Grande Valley is already one of the highest in the country, but now, it’s about to get even worse.
Whole Women’s Health Service is holding a vigil on Thursday evening at their facility in McAllen that’s being forced to close. The name of the event is “Justice Not Served.”