Texas Abortion Ban Limits More Than Abortions

PHOTO: State Rep. Donna Dukes (D-Austin) gestures to reproductive rights advocates on June 25, 2013 in Austin, Texas. Lawmakers will meet for a special session in July when an anti-abortion bill will also be considered.

Republican lawmakers in Texas are hell-bent on passing a bill that will eliminate nearly every abortion clinic in the state.

They're probably going to succeed. The filibuster tactic that thwarted their June attempt at the last minute is unlikely to work in July's special legislative session, because lawmakers have another month to pass the law -- and this time around, they've placed it at the top of their agenda.

So what does that mean, exactly?

A lot more than the loss of abortion options for the women of Texas. Republican Gov. Rick Perry says he's fighting to protect the lives of unborn children, but he stands to hurt living, breathing Texans in the process.

Both men and women, particularly low-income minorities who are more likely to lack health insurance and medical-care options, rely on the "abortion clinics" for services like contraception, STD testing and even cancer screenings. One in four women in the state are uninsured.

"That is part of the concern that's getting drowned out in the abortions versus pro-life soundbite," Texas Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D) said during a Monday phone interview.

Right now, Texas has more than 40 clinics that not only perform abortions but also offer birth control and condoms. All but a handful will be prohibited from operating under the proposed bill. Those that could remain open are in a few urban areas, which would leave rural women with few options.

The restrictions "would represent a significant step backward for the health status of Texas women," Dr. Lisa Hollier, chairwoman of the Texas District American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, wrote in testimony before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Lawmakers in the Lone Star state barred Planned Parenthood from the state's Women's Health Program several years ago because the organization funds abortion clinics. The organization estimates that 130,000 women in Texas now go without preventive health care due to the state's 2011 cuts to women's health care funding.

Abortions make up just three percent of Planned Parenthood services in Texas, according to a spokeswoman for the organization. Thousands of women visit the organization's clinics all over the state to receive STD treatments and other services. The organization also runs education programs to teach men and women how to avoid HIV and unwanted pregnancies.

Clinics not affiliated with Planned Parenthood provide similar services. The proposed law could force them to shutter their doors: In addition to banning abortions later than 20 weeks into a pregnancy, the bill requires abortion clinics to meet unusually high surgical standards and mandates that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

Many of the clinics don't currently meet such standards and would have to either remodel, relocate, or shut down if they perform more than several dozen abortions in a year. This is despite the fact that few people suffer complications from abortions in current clinics.

Those who do update their clinics may need to charge more for abortions to compensate.

Closures could raise the number of women who suffer unplanned pregnancies, by severely limiting their access not only to abortions but to birth control, contraceptives and education, as well.

Kathryn Hearn has been with the Planned Parenthood in Hidalgo County, along Texas' southern border, for more than 20 years. Nearly all of the people who visit the clinic - about 90 percent - live at or below the poverty line, and many have no other source of health care.

The clinics might be able to stay open as health care providers if the law passes and they eliminate their abortion practices, but Hearn maintains that abortion care is a vital part of an overall healthcare system. That should not change, she said. But it's going to make staying open very difficult, because complying with the law will be expensive and complicated.

Martinez-Fischer said the clinics run like any other business, and it's highly unusual for commerce-friendly legislators in Texas to tell business owners what services they can offer - except in this case. "It's meddling beyond the privacy of a woman's health care choice and getting into industry practices," he said. "I don't think that's where we need to be."

Hearn is worried that as clinics close their doors, women in some parts of Texas will see no other option but to travel south of the Mexican border to receive abortions.

"They're not legal there," she said, "but they're certainly available."

The Hidalgo clinic already sees women who have had under-the-table procedures in Mexico, as well as women who have taken suspicious herbal "abortion pills" they picked up down south. They suffer infections and other complications.

"The first thing they said, when our clinicians heard about the bill, is that more women are going to go to Mexico," Hearn said. "It's not safe."

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