Monday, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) reported that laws and policies restricting access to abortion have increased the amount of time it takes for a person to secure an appointment with one of the dwindling number of providers in Texas.
Wait times have gotten particularly long in Dallas and Ft. Worth after a large-volume clinic closed in June 2015, with women having to wait up to 20 days on average in these cities. There were 8 facilities providing abortion care in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area in April 2013; now there are only 4. Wait times have also been as long as 20 days at some clinics in Austin, while wait times have been stable and short in Houston and San Antonio.
TxPEP documented what most people intuitively understand: when you limit access to a service that people need, the service become harder to obtain, driving costs up and forcing people to consider other means of obtaining the service which might not be safe or legal.
Also intuitive but worth making explicit: teenagers, undocumented people, and poor people in Texas, especially those living in areas already under-served by the healthcare safety net, and especially those working low-wage jobs that do not provide sick leave or paid time off, will suffer more than anyone else because of these delays.
Here’s a very brief and somewhat simplified timeline of what’s happened—and when we might know what’s going to happen—to the ability of Texans to access abortion care:
- HB 2 was signed into law in 2013 by Rick Perry. The law so greatly restricts access to abortion that almost all providers in Texas would close, unable to provide abortions legally, if the law went into effect.
- HB 2 was challenged in court. Some aspects of it were upheld, others continue to be litigated.
- In June, 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiffs (and therefore against access to abortion) and upheld the law.
- In September, 2015, the plaintiffs requested a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court. That simply means that the plaintiffs have asked the court to hear the case and evaluate whether the Fifth Circuit decision should stand. The plaintiffs’ argue that the Fifth Circuit’s decision places an undue burden on people seeking abortion care in Texas, and so should be struck down.
- On Monday, October 5, 2015, the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term, Texas Attorney General Kenneth Paxton filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to ignore the request for a writ, meaning he asked them to ignore the plaintiffs, not consider the case, and therefore allow the Fifth Circuit decision upholding the law to stand.
The plaintiffs want the Supreme Court to hear the case, confident that justices will see HB 2 as unconstitutional because its extreme limitations to the right to access abortion are, in fact, an undue burden on the constitutional right to abortion the Court has affirmed in the past.
The Attorney General wants a win at the Fifth Circuit so the law will go into effect. Possibly, he and his advisors have begun to realize that the Supreme Court, as conservative and reactionary as some of its members may be, might just rule against Texas and its overly-restrictive law.
The Supreme Court is not obligated to respond to a petition seeking a writ of certiorari, but, as Geddy Lee would argue, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
Texans have been in limbo. Doctors and clinics are uncertain, day to day, whether they will be able to provide care. People seeking abortions are already confused about where to go, and what the process really is. As TxPEP has now demonstrated, there are real-world consequences to the confusion, delays, and restrictions. And, although you may not have noticed, a central issue in the 2016 presidential race is the consideration of who might get to name one or more new justices to the Supreme Court.
I anticipate the Supreme Court will hear the case.
I cannot predict the outcome.
I fear for the safety of Texans in need of abortion care if the Fifth Circuit decision is allowed to stand.
Right now, you can get an abortion in Texas, but you have to jump through hoops, and may have to drive halfway across the state to do so. Here’s the Fund Texas Choice map that shows where you can find out what clinics are closest to you and how to contact them. Do not rely on the map, but use it to contact clinics to confirm the very latest status:
Others may be watching baseball. They can have it. I’ll be watching the court. And 2016.