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Two days after the new abortion restrictions went into effect in Texas, women’s hospitals in the surrounding states were already juggling clogged phone lines and an increasing number of appointment requests from Texans.
At a clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an abortion provider said that on Tuesday, the day before the law went into effect, every patient who made an appointment online was from their neighboring state to the east. As of Thursday, all abortion clinics in New Mexico were reportedly fully booked for weeks, and a center in Dallas had dispatched dozens of staff to help the overstretched system of the much less populated state.
But for every Texan who can get out of town to evade the new law, there are more who can’t.
“These are the people who have a working car, who can have free, who have someone to look after their children,” said Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, New Mexico, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada. “There will be thousands of people who don’t have the change, and that will affect women of color, young women and rural women in particular.”
Texas law prohibits abortion after doctors diagnose a “fetal heartbeat” that can persist after six weeks, when many people are unaware that they are pregnant. Experts | call the term misleading because embryos have not yet developed a heart at this point, but show heart activity. Cases where someone became pregnant due to rape or incest are not exempt from the law.
But the state does not enforce the law. Instead, individuals can sue those they suspect are violating them, from abortion providers to abortion funds to other civilians like Uber drivers who drive women to abortion clinics. And the law allows anyone in the country to bring lawsuits against Texans who are suspected of participating in now illegal abortions.
For Republican lawmakers and anti-abortionists, Texas law was a long-fought victory, one of the strictest abortion laws since the groundbreaking Roe v. Wade in 1973 Signing the law in May, Governor Gregor Abbott said the move “ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat is saved from the ravages of abortion.”
But abortion providers, as well as immigrant and black women’s rights advocates, say the new restrictions will not create a de facto ban on abortion for all Texans. Instead, they argue, state lawmakers have put in place a system that affects teenagers and Texans with disabilities the hardest and further disadvantages poor black women.
Half of all women in the US who had an abortion in 2014 lived in poverty, twice as much as in 1994, corresponding a study from 2016 from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group for reproductive health. Texas Health data shows that black patients were responsible for about 30% of abortions in Texas in 2020, despite 12% of the state’s population being black. In Texas and the nation, black women are much more likely to die in pregnancy-related deaths than white or Hispanic women.
“For black women, we know that our young girls are at risk of losing their futures because they are forced to become parents before they are prepared,” said Michelle Anderson of the Afiya Center, an advocacy group for black Texans’ reproductive rights. “It will perpetuate generation poverty in black communities. … It also maintains the maternal mortality rate. “
Now, to have access to a legal abortion provider after about six weeks, Texas residents must spend the time and money to leave the state. That could take days: State laws in Louisiana and Oklahoma currently require a waiting period of 24 and 72 hours, respectively, after an initial appointment before a patient can have an abortion. In the west, New Mexico doesn’t have any major abortion restrictions like waiting times or required parental notices, but most of the Texas population is closer to the more restrictive states.
While the average distance to an abortion clinic in Texas according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, that has now grown to about 248 miles. In addition to travel time and gasoline costs, abortions can now also require costs for accommodation, childcare and lost wages, the institute reported.
Although the new abortion restrictions – which providers estimate will ban about 85% of abortions in the state – didn’t go into effect until Wednesday, Texas women and neighboring providers had a glimpse of what was to come last year. In 2020, an executive order from Gov. Gregor Abbott effectively prohibited abortion more than a month during the pandemic, the designation of the electoral process as a hospital room has been limited. During that time, Cowart said, clinics in Colorado and New Mexico saw patient numbers grow 12-fold.
“The people who left the state [for abortions] and came back to have follow-up care that tended to have higher income, tended to be white people, ”said Bhavik Kumar, a doctor at the Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston, recalling patients he saw after Abbotts ended Executive Ordinance saw.
The patients, who simply had to wait weeks for the order to end to have their procedures done in Texas, “were the low-income people, the colored people, especially black women,” added Kumar.
Over the course of 2020, the number of abortions performed on non-state residents of Texas nearly doubled from 654 the previous year to 1,226, according to data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The state did not break down data by month for out-of-state abortions. Still, the number was relatively small compared to the nearly 54,000 games played in Texas.
About 3% of abortions for white and black Texans were performed outside of the state, the health department reported. But while Hispanic women living in Texas had more abortions than any other race or ethnic group – nearly 20,000 – in 2020, only two left the state for the procedure, the state reported. How other states reported data on Hispanic Americans, the health department could not clarify on Thursday.
Immigrant rights advocates said Hispanic women have fewer abortions outside of the state, in part because many Central and South American immigrants are unable to leave border towns, let alone the state, due to federal immigration checkpoints. For others, every health request, every health expense can be a burden.
“Aside from the existing barriers for the immigrant population to access health care… there is already a fear of just calling [a doctor] and find out [if they’re pregnant]“Said Miriam Camero, vice president of social programs at RAICES, an immigrant rights group.
The tide of Texans turning to clinics in other states began long before the law went into effect on Wednesday. A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said Thursday that New Mexico clinics were already booked three weeks in advance after abortions were performed on Tuesday at the Albuquerque clinic for a significant number of Texans. And a Dallas abortion provider, the Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, sent a dozen of its staff to a sister clinic in New Mexico to help treat the surge in patients.
Staff left Dallas at 5:00 am Wednesday morning to make it to Albuquerque in time to “see as many patients as possible in need of abortion treatment who cannot access it here in Texas,” said Allison Gilbert, a doctor at Dallas -Clinic.
Employees plan to stay there for at least three to four weeks, Gilbert said.
Some organizations have set up abortion funds to help women with travel expenses. The law states that providers and those who assist women with abortions can be sued for violating the Texas prohibition; Proponents and some providers fear this could include helping women leave the state. RAICES and abortion fundraising groups like the Lilith Fund and Texas Equal Access Fund hope to give women access to abortion who otherwise could not afford it.
Even some private companies like it Match Group in Dallas and Bumble in Austin, both run by women, have set up similar funds.
But for many, even if they get access to funds for a paid trip, the cost will still be insurmountable, said Anderson of the Afiya Center.
“There are many barriers, especially when it comes to black women,” she said, referring to childcare and job instability. “It could also be that I can pay my rent? Will I be able to put food on the table? “
Disclosure: Bumble, Planned Parenthood, and Afiya Center were financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a complete one List them here.
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