Since the passage of HB 2 nearly three years ago, the number of abortion clinics in Texas has shrunk from 41 to 18, decimating thousands of women’s access to abortion services.
Now, thanks to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), we have some of these women’s stories.
TxPEP published a paper this month in the journal Contraception that looked qualitatively at Texas women’s experiences with access to abortion services in the wake of HB 2. Researchers interviewed 23 women between November 2013 and November 2014 who had either tried to get care at clinics that had closed due to HB 2, or had had their appointments cancelled when a clinic had to shut its doors. Their stories reflect the new reality of seeking abortion care in Texas, including misinformation and confusion, added cost barriers, and being forced to delay care as they tried to find a clinic near them that was open.
Several women had made medical appointments, only to get a call that they would be abruptly cancelled because HB 2 was forcing the clinic to close. Clinics did their best to inform women of their next closest option, but that didn’t stop many women from being confused and fearful. One interviewee from Austin described her experience:
“Everything was pretty simple in the beginning. It was supposed to be on…a Thursday, but I got a call Wednesday night that said it was canceled; to not come in…it was pretty scary. They said that they would give me the number to the Dallas location that I could go to, but, I mean, Dallas is 4 [hours]away, so I just knew it was going to be a little bit more difficult for me…̒is that clinic going to be booked up? Was I going to get in, in time? How was I going to pay to get there? How was I going to get there?”
Many women reported that traveling to a new city for an abortion, while already in a confused and vulnerable state, was a traumatic — and expensive — experience. It was particularly difficult for women in the Rio Grande Valley, who had to drive 4+ hours to San Antonio to get care after clinics in Harlingen and McAllen closed. In West Texas, women reported driving across state lines into New Mexico to get an abortion appointment. One of the women from McAllen described her experience:
“We didn’t know how long it was going to take, ’cause we can drive 4 h over there, do the procedure and then drive 4 h back, but we didn’t know how I was going feel…we didn’t want to be on the road and then I start — I keep bleeding…you know?…before you could just go to McAllen. It wasn’t so far away, and you could come back to your home and be comfortable…but having to go all the way there and not even feel comfortable, not even be where you’re naturally from and being in a hotel afterwards…that’s the only experience I didn’t like, the whole traveling and then having to stay somewhere we didn’t want to stay, but since we lived so far away that we didn’t have a choice.”
Several of the women interviewed had to significantly delay their abortions past the 12-week mark into the second trimester, even though they had scheduled their appointments much earlier. Though the medical procedure is still safe at that point, it is much more expensive. One woman even had to take out a loan to cover the additional $200 she now had to pay for the procedure.
For a few women, being in such a dire situation caused them to consider self-inducing their abortions. They looked online and asked family and friends for information on how to do so. Fortunately, none of them ultimately attempted to do so, but not all Texas women are that lucky. As an earlier TxPEP study found hundreds of thousands of Texas women are self-inducing abortions, putting their own lives at risk.
With this new report, TxPEP puts a voice to the numbers we’ve already seen. We know the number of clinics closed, the percentages of women who face difficulty getting an abortion. Now, we have some of their stories. We have the words of real women who are facing real struggles as a result of Republican lawmakers and HB 2.
HB 2 is going to be argued before the Supreme Court later this year, and they will issue a decision by June. Not only is the future of HB 2 in the balance, as my colleague Genevieve Cato explained, this decision is going to affect abortion access across the country. Will soon hear similar stories from women in other states? That is in SCOTUS’s hands. Pro-choice leaders are hopeful about the coming Supreme Court decision. But as the Texas GOP’s actions continue to prove, access to basic healthcare for women is unfortunately going to be an ongoing battle. And so regardless of this year’s SCOTUS decision, we must continue to fight, so stories like this become a thing of the past.