by Mary Tuma
“It’s devastating. Some of our clients don’t know what to do next. Some were crying,” said Fatimah Gifford with Whole Woman’s Health, a network of Texas reproductive health and abortion centers. “This is the option they decided on, this is what they want to do. And now they don’t know where to go.”
Gifford says the group had to reschedule 45 client appointments in Ft. Worth and McAllen– who have all together halted abortion services–and in San Antonio today.
Planned Parenthood of South Texas CEO Jeffrey Hons expresses his disappointment with the ruling to reinstate Texas' abortion restrictive law during a press conference on Friday. Photo by Mary Tuma.
Reproductive health care leaders are grappling with the crippling effects of a new restriction imposed today by a controversial Texas law, that, among other requirements, forces abortion doctors to secure admitting privileges at a hospital no further than 30 miles of where the procedure is performed. Health advocates say this will prevent one in three women from obtaining abortion access.
This part of the law, and another restrictive provision requiring women to follow outdated abortion medication protocol, saw a legal challenge from reproductive health groups, including Planned Parenthood and Whole Woman’s Health, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights. While a federal judge ruled the admit privileges requirement unconstitutional and “without a rational basis” the state appealed the decision and successfully secured a reversal of the judge’s injunction from a conservative-leaning appellate court.
The requirement takes effect today and has already caused a wave of obstacles for abortion-seeking women and providers.
During an afternoon media conference at the Planned Parenthood reproductive health center on Babcock Road, Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas, estimated abortion care is now only available in a handful of Texas cities, including San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, as result of the new Texas law. Abortion services in Beaumont and Austin are also staying afloat. A total of at least nine centers have ended abortion services, according to the Texas Tribune.
In San Antonio, abortion services are not completely discontinued but significantly reduced in terms of staff and hours of operation, said Gifford. Instead of four doctors servicing the two centers located in San Antonio, only one doctor working just four days a month is able to see clients, as result of the legislation. The health centers are seeking admitting privileges for the other doctors, but are uncertain of the response timeframe, leaving only two of their five centers in full operation for abortion services. In the interim, they’re forced to offer a “short-term Band-Aid” for the statewide facilities, says Gifford.
Judging by the phone calls placed to Planned Parenthood centers this morning, women expecting to undergo abortion in the next few days are being forced to change plans, Hons similarly noted earlier today.
Hons said the Planned Parenthood abortion center in San Antonio has spent the last several months preparing for the law’s effects and is able to continue to provide abortion services to women. However, it’s likely the center may see an influx of new patients, displaced by the centers unable to offer abortion, meaning possibly longer wait times to get an appointment and be seen by a physician. The Current asked Hons if the centers were expecting a major increase in clientele, considering the lack of access in surrounding cities.
“These women have fewer places to call, fewer places where they can go for an appointment and seek medical care. So, it only stands to reason that our phone will be ringing more. I can’t imagine that won’t happen," said Hons. “But I think that’s something all of us service providers, media, anyone following, should be watching.”
“But we won’t be able to be everything to everyone,” added Hons, pointing out that abortion care only makes up a small fraction of Planned Parenthood’s services. The center, along with other clinics statewide, also offer preventative care like cancer screenings, contraception and well-woman exams. Hons says it will be a “balancing act” trying to deal with an increase in patients while continuing to serve existing clients.
“The lawmakers that passed this [and the Fifth Circuit ruling] tries to create this idea that it isn’t going to a problem for service providers, and that is untrue,” he said. “It’s going to be a problem and it is a violation of constitutionally protected rights.”
Echoing fellow plaintiffs, Hons called the Fifth Circuit’s decision a “disappointment” and vehemently disagreed with the ruling. He also pointed to former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ characterization of Judge Priscilla Owens, one of the three deciding judges on the appellate court, as a ‘judicial activist.’ As the Current previously reported, Owens sought to inject religion into a Texas parental consent abortion law aimed at minors.
“The Fifth Circuit said the [law] did not create an undue burden, and in that, I believe the Fifth Circuit made a mistake,” said Hons. “[
] To understand whether or not this is an undue burden, you have to simply visit with a woman who lives in Harlingen, El Paso Killeen, Amarillo or Beaumont and ask her if it’s an undue burden for her, and I think she would say yes.”
“The legal battle will continue,” said Hons. “I have a feeling the lawsuit and this challenge is not over.”