CREDIT: Eric Gay/AP
Exactly a year ago, despite Wendy Davis’ historic 11-hour filibuster that energized pro-choice activists across the country, Texas approved a stringent package of abortion restrictions that represented some of the harshest in the nation. As Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) signed the new anti-abortion law into law, he called it a “very happy, celebratory day.” But since then, there hasn’t been much to celebrate.
The number of clinics in the state has been cut in half over the past year, dropping from 41 to just 20, according to a report from Houston Public Media. Many of those reproductive health facilities — which provided family planning services and routine well woman exams, in addition to abortion services — were forced of out business because they can’t comply with the new law, which requires doctors to obtain admitting privileges from local hospitals. Although that policy is framed in terms of keeping patients safe, medical experts are opposed to Texas’ law because it doesn’t actually do anything to improve women’s health.
Heather Busby, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told Houston Public Media that the changing landscape is having serious consequences for the estimated 5.4 million women of reproductive age living in the state. With a dwindling number of clinics available, there are long lines at the facilities that remain open. “We’re seeing people being pushed further into pregnancy, having to leave the state, having to drive and sleep in their cars in parking lots because of these barriers to access,” Busby said.
It gets worse. At the beginning of September, another provision of the new law takes effect. Then, clinics will be required to bring their facilities in line with the building codes for ambulatory surgical centers — something that forces them to make unnecessary and costly renovations, like widening hallways and installing air filtration systems. At that point, reproductive health advocates in the state expect the number of abortion clinics to drop to just six; the other 14 facilities won’t be able to afford to make the updates.
None of this is a surprise for the people who have been following the unfolding situation in Texas. For months, abortion providers in the state have been warning that abortion clinics are disappearing, and pointing out that those closures are disproportionately impacting the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents who don’t necessarily have the means to travel several hours to the nearest abortion provider. In March, when the rural Rio Grande Valley — one of the poorest cities in America — lost its last clinics, advocates called it “a state of emergency for Texas women.”
Now, there are increasing reports of impoverished Texas residents resorting to illegal methods of ending a pregnancy, like buying abortion-inducing drugs on the black market in Mexico. Emergency rooms are suddenly seeing more women suffering from miscarriages — bleeding because they took pills to end their pregnancy outside of the supervision of a doctor. But not everyone can get their hands on those pills. Some women are throwing themselves down the stairs or asking their significant other to punch them in the stomach.
Soon, the crisis won’t be contained within Texas’ borders. Other anti-choice lawmakers have followed in Texas’ footsteps and proposed the exact same type of laws in their own states. In May, Oklahoma and Louisiana became the latest states to approve identical admitting privilege requirements. As these laws sweep the South, abortion clinics are in danger throughout a broad swath of the United States. And that’s on top of the dozens of abortion-related restrictions, like mandatory waiting periods, that are already impeding women’s access to health care.
“Every time a law passes there’s a group of women who can still make it over that barrier,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, who runs several reproductive health facilities in Texas, said in a recent interview with Cosmopolitan. “But with each law, that group gets smaller and smaller. With each law, there’s a group of women who get left behind.”