A new study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) further outlines how legal barriers to abortion access harm Texas women. This month, TxPEP, a reproductive health research group based at the University of Texas, published the study results in the American Journal of Public Health after surveying 398 women looking for abortion care at 10 Texas clinics. TxPEP conducted their research over three consecutive months in 2014 in order to assess the devastating impact of House Bill 2 (HB2), which has caused more than half of Texas abortion clinics to close their doors. TxPEP's research explains that the law, passed in 2013, has made it so that women have to travel much greater distances, spend much larger sums of money, and lose access to medical abortions altogether once they make it through the unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles blocking access to a Constitutionally-protected outpatient procedure. HB2's only purpose is to punish women who dare to control their own bodies and health.
So how has HB2 managed to reduce the number of abortion centers in Texas from 41 clinics to only 18 clinics in just two years? Well, by forcing abortion clinics to comply with irrelevant laws that are unnecessary for patient safety. Specifically, it mandates that all abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges and requires that clinics pass as "ambulatory surgical centers," or smaller hospitals; the majority of existing clinics do not have large enough hallways or operating rooms to qualify as ambulatory surgical centers, nor do their doctors have admitting privileges, so they have been forced to shut down. In scientifically-supported reality, neither of these policies are required for an abortion to be performed safely.
As explained by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), HB2 only applies to women's health clinics, and not medical centers that provide similarly simple, quick procedures; anti-choice legislators are only concerned with forcing abortion providers out of operation, effectively eradicating reproductive rights in the state. The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as stated per CRR, agree that HB2 "[serves] no medical purpose, [interferes] in the doctor/patient relationship, and [does] nothing to promote women’s health." On March 2, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments from abortion providers and pro-choice advocates in Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges the legality of HB2. The Supreme Court is expected to announce their ruling in June 2016, and in the interim, women's lives are in danger.
In a statement, one of the TxPEP study's authors, Liza Fuentes, said, “This study is unusual in its ability to assess multiple burdens imposed on women as a result of clinic closures, but it is important to note that the burdens documented here are not the only hardships that women experienced as a result of HB2.” For example, another TxPEP study released in November 2015 made the horrifying discovery that 100,000 to 240,000 Texas women have attempted self-inducing abortion since the passage of HB2.
This new study compares the experiences of women whose nearest abortion clinics had closed versus the experiences of women whose nearest abortion clinics had stayed open, and elaborates upon the increased difficulties making highly unsafe self-induced abortions the only option for so many women. I'll break down these study findings, with assistance from heartbreaking GIFs of a Texas clinic director's interview from an infuriating segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
1. Women Are Traveling Four Times As Far To See A Provider
According to the survey, 38 percent of women had lost access to their closest clinic and had to travel excessive distances to see a doctor. The average one-way distance to a clinic for women is now 70 miles; before HB2, the average one-way distance to a clinic was 14 miles. Out of the women whose nearest clinics had closed, their average one-way distance to a clinic was reported as 85 miles. Women who had not lost access to a nearby clinic traveled an average one-way distance of only 22 miles. For some women, the situation is even more dire. Twenty-five percent of surveyed women now live more than 139 miles away from their closest clinic, and 10 percent of surveyed women now live 256 miles away from their closest clinic.
Women are taking it upon themselves to ensure that those who want an abortion are able to arrive to their appointments. The Clinic Access Support Network (CASN), a Houston-based volunteer organization started by Angie Hayes, heroically organizes free rides for women travelling long distances to their appointments. In an essay for Slate, Laura Moser explains that Houston, America's fourth largest city, has hardly any public transportation infrastructure, so without cab fare or gas money, those long car rides can't happen. And don't forget that Texas also upholds sonogram laws, requiring that "women seeking abortion services ... show up 24 hours in advance to see the fetus on a screen and listen to its heartbeat and hear a spiel about the sanctity of life." That means Texas women already have to make double the trips to these impossibly far clinics. Without CASN, 150 Houston women per year would not have made it to these appointments.
2. Women Are Forced To Spend More Money
In addition to the cost of the abortion procedure itself, 32 percent of women whose nearest clinics had closed found themselves shelling out over $100 to cover out-of-pocket expenses. These extra bills pile up for numerous reasons. More than triple the amount of women whose nearest clinics had closed needed to pay for overnight stays at hotel, motels, etc. due to the faraway travel distances. Moreover, you are not allowed to drive yourself home from an abortion; if you are not able to access the services of CASN or another family member, friend, or volunteer, that means you are paying for some type of chauffeur. Never mind the cost of gas itself. Women taking off days of work in order to make the trip and appointment are losing out on wages, and women who are already mothers may need to pay for child care while they are traveling for the procedure. Abortion is supposed to be a right for all, not just for the wealthy.
3. There Are Even More Barriers To Desired Medical Care
Many women prefer medical abortion over surgical abortion if it is early enough in their pregnancies to elect for the required medication. Surgical abortion is an approximately 5-10 minute procedure done in a clinic. While a medical abortion is a two-days long process, taking pills means it can be done in the safety and comfort of your own home. Many Texas women are no longer allowed that opportunity. The survey found that 37 percent of women whose closest clinics were shut down could only access a surgical abortion, compared to 22 percent of women whose closest clinics were still open. In Texas, women are denied the abortion they want, if they aren't denied an abortion altogether.
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