How Texas’ 6-Week Abortion Ban Will Make Access To The Procedure Nearly Impossible For Some

Clinics statewide – the second most populous in the country – have significantly limited their services, as doctors are prohibited by law from performing the procedure when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas, offers abortion services “only if no embryonic or fetal heart activity is detected in the ultrasound,” according to a spokesperson, and several other providers are also taking this approach. limited.

The claimants filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Texas law, relying on the Roe v. Wade of the 1973 Supreme Court, which enshrined a national right to abortion before viability, a point at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. Late Wednesday evening, the Supreme Court said it would not prevent the law from coming into force.

The Texas measure was designed to make such a challenge difficult. By tasking private citizens – who are empowered by law to bring civil action against those who violate the six-week ban – instead of government officials with enforcement of the ban, the Texas legislature has scrambled the usual legal route that abortion rights advocates have taken to get courts to block other extreme restrictions before they can be implemented.

Tens of thousands of women in Texas seeking abortions are unlikely to be able to access it. Many women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks, and opponents of the law say at least 85% of abortions in Texas occur after this stage of pregnancy.

Some of these women may be able to travel out of state to obtain abortions. The impact of the ban will hit low-income people – who have neither the time nor the resources for such trips – as well as people of color. Taken together, black, Asian and Latin people made up the most people getting abortions in Texas, according to 2019 state data.

The procedure itself costs around $ 550 in Texas and cannot be covered by public or private insurance, according to Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst at the reproductive rights think tank, the Guttmacher Institute. Out-of-state travel costs will significantly increase this cost. The closest clinics are in Louisiana – which is currently in the midst of a hurricane – and it can take a three-and-a-half-hour drive for many Texans and nine hours for those in its Rio Grande valley.

Travel costs can be compounded by residual costs such as childcare and lost wages due to downtime.

“All of these costs add up to make it very inaccessible for a lot of people,” said Zaena Zamora, executive director of the Frontera Fund, which provides tactical and financial assistance to abortion seekers in Southeast Texas.

Clinics scramble as ban goes into effect

Even before midnight strikes in Texas and the abortion ban went into effect on Wednesday, providers said they faced a slight increase in surveillance and harassment from activists anti-abortion, who now have the power to bring private enforcement actions under the law.

“Protesters called the police twice and the fire department once (Tuesday) in Fort Worth, all in their attempts to say there were too many patients, to try to find a law we were breaking,” Amy said. Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates a clinic in Fort Worth.

Hagstrom Miller, speaking on a call with reporters, said protesters turned on giant lights in the clinic’s parking lot. As of 10 p.m. local time, the clinic had 27 patients in the waiting room, Hagstrom Miller said, and the last procedure ended at 11.56 p.m., just before the ban went into effect.

The law allows anyone – as long as they are not a government official – to bring a civil action in state court against a claimant accused of having violated the ban, whom the person bringing the legal action may or may not be related to the abortion. being wanted. If they win, they are entitled to at least $ 10,000 in damages, and the law is structured to make it particularly costly for clinics targeted by enforcement action. It prohibits clinics from recovering attorney fees from their legal opponents, even if a judge sided with the provider in the lawsuit. The measure also prevents clinics from seeking to transfer cases to places that are convenient for them, unless they have the agreement of their opponents.

Because of the way the litigation package is stacked against them, clinics and other abortion access advocates implicated by the ban – including abortion funds and groups that provide alternative means of relief. transportation for abortion seekers – plan to comply fully until there is a court ruling blocking the law. In addition to this deterrent effect, the measure has the potential to close clinics, even if it turns out that they did not break the law.

“Even though the defendants won every case, the onus of having to defend themselves, of having lawyers to spend their time, of having to tour rural courts all over Texas – 258 counties – to defend themselves. , that alone threatens to shut down access to abortion statewide, ”said Marc Hearron, senior attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinics in their federal challenge to the law.

A “target” on the backs of groups that facilitate access to abortion

Another notable aspect of the ban is how it targets not only doctors, but anyone who “knowingly” helps a woman to have an abortion after six weeks, or even anyone who “intends” to. help women access illegal abortions.

The Lilith Fund, Texas’ oldest abortion fund, has been preparing for the move since it was enacted in May, according to the organization’s communications director Cristina Parker. The group is focused on securing funds for women so they can access the procedure before the six-week deadline or help them travel out of state.

“We knew the target was on our backs as soon as this bill was introduced in the spring,” Parker said.

The limits that GOP Governor Greg Abbott placed on procedure for a few months at the start of the pandemic offer a glimpse of how the new ban could play out if upheld.

The women traveled to Colorado or Virginia to have an abortion, according to Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. Jane’s Due Process, an organization that helps teens access abortion when they don’t have their parents’ permission, saw only a handful of these young people have abortions when the limitations of the pandemic were in place. The organization typically helps at least 350 teenage girls have abortions each year, said the group’s executive director, Rosann Mariappuram.

During this time, the Lilith Fund also saw demands for financial assistance decline, as women even struggled to get appointments at clinics out of state. Already, the Frontera Fund has seen a “huge decrease” in call volume over the past two weeks, Zamora said, as the only clinic in his organization’s region was already booked in anticipation of the coming into force of the ban.

Yet even as clinics and the organizations that facilitate access radically change their approach in line with the ban, they feel vulnerable to the legal attacks from anti-abortion activists that the new law makes possible.

“Our very existence creates risk,” Zamora said.

This story was updated with the Supreme Court ruling.


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