Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to date with the most essential Texas news.
In 2014, dozens of Texans gathered in the parking lot of a McAllen abortion clinic for a candlelight vigil to mourn its last day of opening. One of the only abortion providers for hundreds of miles, the clinic had provided the procedure since it opened in the 1970s – but a new state law forced it to close.
The law, passed by the Legislature in 2013, closed nearly half of all abortion clinics in Texas because it required them to meet hospital-like standards, including minimum sizes for doors and doors. bedrooms. Lawsuits poured through local and state courts for years before the United States Supreme Court finally overturned Texas law in 2016 for obstructing access to abortion.
McAllen’s Whole Woman’s Health clinic was one of the few to reopen. Due to the law, Texas has grown from 40 abortion providers to 19. As of 2020, there were even fewer – 15 licensed clinics in a state with a population of nearly 30 million people.
Now abortion providers say they feel the same distrust and fear – feelings that never really went away, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO and founder of Whole Woman’s Health.
Texas’ newest abortion restriction, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks pregnant, is the latest and most devastating blow by lawmakers who are on the warpath to speed up access to abortion for decades.
“It has been a battleground for this issue for a generation,” Miller said.
The new law – which is enforced by calling on private citizens to sue abortion providers – blocks all abortions after detection of fetal heart activity, when many people still do not know they are pregnant . Anti-abortion organization Texas Right To Life estimates that at least 2,000 abortions have been stopped since the law, passed as Senate Bill 8, came into effect earlier this month.
The United States Supreme Court has denied a request to block the law, although its constitutionality has yet to be decided. But the US Department of Justice announced it was suing Texas on the basis of SB 8 unconstitutionality last Thursday after the Supreme Court refused to block its effects. On Monday, at least two people using the new law filed lawsuits against a doctor who admitted to performing a prohibited abortion.
When the law was implemented on September 1, providers did not close their doors. But they began to turn away the majority of their patients, making Texas the most difficult state to abort compared to the rest of the country.
At the time of the landmark Roe v. Wade in 1973, the anti-abortion movement was smaller and less organized, said Mary Ziegler, a Florida State University law professor who studies reproductive legal history and the Constitution.
“Southern Baptists weren’t really opposed to abortion consistently until the 1980s,” Ziegler said. “Southern Baptists are very present in Texas. … They were opposed to what they called “abortion on demand” and in favor of abortion in limited circumstances. “
Things started to change in 1977, when Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which blocks the use of federal Medicaid funding to pay for abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy results from rape or incest. A Texas law also allowed hospitals to refuse abortion services without providing a reason.
In 1985, Texas lawmakers passed a requirement that only licensed physicians could perform abortions, excluding nurse practitioners and therefore increasing the cost of abortions.
These limitations have disproportionately prevented low-income people from getting the procedure, a trend compounded by Texas’ latest restriction, said Caitlin Myers, a professor of economics at Middlebury College who studies the impacts of abortion policies.
“Women requesting an abortion come from all walks of life, but many of them are in the midst of really difficult circumstances where even 50 miles travel distance, even demands, they have to go to the provider twice – these are hurdles some of them just can’t overcome, ”Myers said.
Beginning in 1999, each legislative session in Texas began dispensing with more rules and regulations related to abortion. The Woman’s Right to Know Act required doctors to provide reading material about 24 hours before a procedure warning of its risks. Abortions after 16 weeks had to take place at an approved outpatient surgery center. And parental consent became a requirement for minors in 2005.
Also in 2005, the state banned all abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
At the same time, Texas began funding the Alternatives to Abortion program, which has grown into a $ 100 million program although there is almost no data collected on its actual impacts. The program gives funds to entrepreneurs who try to persuade Texans not to have an abortion.
“Since I opened Whole Woman’s Health in 2003, every time the legislature meets there are at least one, if not a handful of restrictions they have placed on people’s access to abortion services.” Miller said. “And it has absolutely nothing to do with the need for abortion or the public health outcomes in our communities. It is simple and straightforward politics.
The anti-abortion movement gained power, influencing the decisions of lawmakers more as the composition of the Texas legislature became more conservative. Many groups have started to advocate for the abolition of all abortion services.
Human Coalition, a national organization opposed to abortion, was founded in 2009 and has grown into a comprehensive network in the hope of eradicating the need for abortion.
“As restrictions on abortion have increased in Texas, so have resources and assistance for pregnant women. Texas has spent decades laying the groundwork for becoming an abortion-free state with unprecedented services like the Alternatives to Abortion and Healthy Texas Women programs, ”said Chelsey Youman, Texas State Director of Human Coalition, mentioning another state-funded program that provides health care to pregnant Texans.
In 2011, the state focused more on abortion providers rather than female patients, cutting two-thirds of public funding for Planned Parenthood’s family planning clinics and banning local funding for hospital districts that performed abortions. .
“The strategic change was to make it increasingly expensive and more difficult to provide abortions, so that there are fewer and fewer providers,” Myers said.
The most common procedure used for second trimester abortion, known as dilation and evacuation, was banned by an act of the legislature in 2017. Although Whole Woman’s Health has challenged the law in front of the courts, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the state. last month, which led to the ban going into effect this year alone.
“These losses don’t change what we stand for, the values we have and what we think our patients are capable of,” Miller said. “But these maternal health outcomes are simply destroyed by restrictions on family planning and restrictions on access to safe abortion. It affects families statewide.
Due to ever-increasing limitations, more and more people have flocked out of state for abortions or have turned to self-management methods with drugs often found in online pharmacies.
According to a 2021 study published in a medical journal, states that severely restricted access to abortion had significantly higher demands for self-administered abortion methods through nonprofit aid.
But a law that was passed in the last special session also threatens the ability of doctors to prescribe these drugs.
“This has been happening for a long time,” said Caroline Duble, political director of Avow Texas, an abortion advocacy group. “Defenders of states like Texas have been begging the federal government for greater protections for a very long time, because we always knew that one day might come, that the Supreme Court would not save us and be our last.” security net. “
And although the 2013 Supreme Court struck down the law requiring hospital-like standards, today’s Supreme Court has a conservative majority that anti-abortion advocates say will eventually overthrow Roe v. Wade.
If that happens, a Texas “trigger law” criminalizing all abortion procedures would go into effect 30 days after the court ruling.
“This is a direct result of the political context we find ourselves in, after a Trump administration and decades of the Texas legislature that undermined our already highly vulnerable health care infrastructure,” Duble said.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.
Join us September 20-25 at the Texas Tribune Festival 2021. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas on politics, public policy and the day’s news, hosted by award-winning journalists of the Texas Tribune. Learn more.