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Texas Women Crossing State Lines for Abortion Access

by: Natalie San Luis

Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 01:41 PM CDT

Since its implementation, HB 2 has posed often overwhelming challenges to women and trans men seeking legal abortions.

One Texas woman recently shared her story with the Texas Observer after she was forced to travel to Arkansas for the procedure following a second-trimester ultrasound that showed a severe brain defect.

Nineteen weeks pregnant and unable to find a healthcare provider available to perform the operation so close to the 20-week cut-off date, Sarah Guler took a costly three-day trip to a clinic in Little Rock.

Guler's story not only underscores the reasons why Texas women need access to later term abortion; it also shows how unsympathetic and dangerous the implementation of HB 2 has been toward women in need.

Read more about Guler's story after the jump.

Carolyn Jones, who previously published her own account of encountering Texas' harsh sonogram law, authored the piece on Sarah Guler's struggle to obtain a legal abortion.

Guler learned that she was pregnant with her third child in September. She had believed that she would never have children again due to her health problems, so the news was a welcome surprise for her and her husband.

However, during her 19-week ultrasound, her OB-GYN found a fetal brain defect that he deemed "incompatible with life." Sarah learned that her child may die in the womb and live a short, painful life if it survived after birth. So she and her husband made the painful, compassionate decision to abort the pregnancy.

The Texas Observer reports:

But she and her husband were in for another shock. When Sarah asked when the doctor could schedule an induction to abort the fetus, he shook his head. "We don't do that here." Instead, he gave her a list of abortion clinics and told her that she had only seven days to get an abortion. "You have to hurry because there's a ban," the doctor told them. "You're already at 19 weeks. By next Friday, it will be too late."

In the car on the way home, Sarah began calling the clinics on the list. Only two of them offered abortions up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. What followed was an odyssey of dead ends. Most clinics told her that they only offered abortions up to 16 weeks. One in Dallas referred her to a clinic in New Mexico, but that clinic couldn't see her until January because it was closed for the holidays. Another clinic in Houston could schedule her on Dec. 26, but after a 24-hour mandatory waiting period she would be too far along to legally abort the fetus. Each receptionist gave Sarah another number to call until eventually she realized she had called some clinics twice. Sarah began to panic. She realized that if she failed to find a clinic in the next week, she would have to spend the remainder of her pregnancy waiting for the baby to die in utero.

In the months prior to Sarah's second-trimester appointment, one-third of Texas abortion clinics had shuttered; the practices that remained open had long waits and few open spots. "Texas can't help us," she told her husband, and they decided to look into Arkansas' only clinic.

After scheduling an appointment, Sarah had to tackle a myriad of financial problems: The actual operation cost almost $2,000, her husband lost wages to drive her, and their car had to be repaired in preparation for the long drive, in addition to gas and lodging.

On her way out of Texas, Sarah pawned her wedding ring to help cover the expenses.

Sarah, her husband and their two friends made the 10-hour drive to Little Rock overnight. It felt like a road trip of the most horrible kind. At gas stops, they shared meals and attempted conversation, but it seemed that they were trapped in a slow-motion nightmare. Near the Texas state line, a burst tire delayed their journey. Sarah had hoped to reach the clinic with enough time to prepare herself, but they arrived only minutes before the appointment. Five protestors, including a child, swarmed them near the clinic entrance. A woman shouted into Sarah's face: "Ma'am, don't hurt that child! This is not God's way! You don't know what your baby could become!"

....The surgical procedure took two days, during which time the clinic staff was consistently reassuring and kind. They explained the procedure, gave her a comfortable floral gown to wear and held her hands as she slipped into sedation. Outside, Sarah's husband waited in the car. On the second day, a protestor yelled through his window: "You're supposed to be protecting that woman! What kind of a man are you?"

Although HB 2 technically allows for certain exceptions to the 20-week ban, the law only vaguely describes these circumstances. Additionally, the law does not define fetus age based on the woman's menstrual cycle as the medical community does. Jones talked to Healther Busby, the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, who said that "there's a lot of fear and confusion out there" among abortion providers who fear the legal repercussions of incorrectly interpreting the unclear statue.

Dr. Moss Hampton, the chair of the texas chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), also weighed in:

He confirmed that the obstetric community had not received any information about the implementation of the law. He also echoed Busby's point about the difficulty of pinpointing the exact stage of pregnancy. "How do you know when fertilization took place?" he asked, adding that such ambiguity makes it difficult for physicians to act within legal bounds. "There's a firestorm around abortion in this state," he said. "Any facility that does terminations on a regular basis would be reluctant to bring anyone in close to 20 weeks for fear of violating the law."

Sarah Guler's story is heartbreaking, but as Texas approaches the September 2014 deadline for the ambulatory surgical center provision, it will become increasingly familiar.  

Copyright Burnt Orange Report, all rights reserved.
Do not republish without express written permission.

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