Texas and Its Abortion Laws: We Will Not Be Complacent About Our Reproductive Rights

On Thursday October 2nd, The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the state of Texas to enforce tough restrictions through the Texas House Bill 2 act. This act, which was released in 2013, includes changes such as requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles from where the abortion is completed, only allowing abortions in surgical centers, governing when abortion pills are taken, and banning abortions after 20 weeks.  In 2011, 46 of the 62 abortion providers were clinics and by 2013, only 22 clinics remained open. Through this prohibitive law, all but 8 abortion clinics were closed this month in Texas (the second most populous state in the country). Clinics currently remain in only a handful of areas, including San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin.

However, these clinics filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on the basis that the rules are unconstitutional and a violation of rights.

On Tuesday October 14th, the Supreme Court suspended the ruling in a 6-3 order, making it possible for the 13 closed abortion clinics to reopen temporarily while the law will be in review. Justices agreed that the clinics should not have to meet hospital standards and clinics in McAllen and El Paso to open.

While this seems like a victory, this still will require around 75,000 women to search for 150 to 250 miles for an abortion. Politician and attorney General Greg Abbott and colleagues filed a memorandum defending the anti-abortion law by calling it an “inconvenience” and “not an undue burden for Texan women.” Abbott wrote, "Abortion can be accessed by driving approximately 230-250 miles -- an inconvenience, but still a manageable one." They also included that "the vast majority of Texas residents" still live "within comfortable driving distance (150 miles)" of an abortion provider. Traveling for a legal and safe abortion, which is a basic constitutional right, for hundreds of miles is just a little inconvenient right?

Nancy Northup, the president of the national advocacy group The Center for Reproductive Rights, disagrees. She appeared on MSNBC with Chris Hayes earlier this month and stated:

“These laws are completely pretextual--and the district court saw that. There’s not medical justification for them. They are meant to do exactly what they’re doing which is closing  80% of the clinics in Texas...Never have we had a law like Texas’s HB2 that has closed 80% of clinics. We have never seen anything like this [and it’s] not okay because the Supreme Court said women have a right to access abortion services and the government can’t put an undue burden on it. 80% of clinics closing is an undue burden. 900,000 women having to drive 300 miles round trip. Not having services in the west or south of the state, only having services in the 4 major metropolitan area. That’s not an undue burden? Then the right doesn’t mean anything….It’s undemocratic to have the kind of false pretext that Texas is pushing for. Unless you can travel, you cannot get access to abortion, and too many women in Texas cannot do that.”   
In 1973, the monumental Roe v. Wade decision allowed American women the right to abortion until viability. In the Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision in 1992, the Court reconfirmed the Roe v. Wade ruling, but expanded the ability of the states to place restrictions on access to abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about one in three women will have had an abortion by the age of 45, and abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures. In 2008, there were 67 abortion providers in the state of Texas and by 2011 there were 62 (46 of which were abortion clinics). In 2011, 89% of US counties had no abortion clinics which meant that the women living in these counties would have to travel to receive a legal and safe abortion. In 2011, 93% of Texas counties had no abortion clinics, and 35% of women lived in these counties.

When clinics only exist in major areas, women are forced to look for alternatives, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Karen Hulsey's story is one such example of this. In 1969, when abortion was illegal in Texas, Karen became pregnant at the age of 20. Her boyfriend paid her to travel to Mexico for an abortion. She described the clinic as being “in a little bitty building with dirt floors.” She met the doctor who put her through a painful gynecological exam and then sedated her for the procedure. When she woke up, she realized the doctor was raping her. Out of fear for her life, she acted like she was coming out under from anesthetic moments later, and she was sent back to Texas with no further care.

Karen Hulsey is one of thousands of women who have had similar experiences and most of these women's stories are not heard. Before trying to enforce regulations and restrictions on women’s access to abortion, we need to first realize that this is a constitutional right to which every woman is entitled. Those of us who can vote must do so in order to protect this right because, as the state of abortion in Texas right now proves, our right to abortion is constantly under attack.

More articles by Category: Feminism, Politics
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Reproductive rights, Abortion, Elections, Planned Parenthood



Vicki Soogrim
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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