Advocates for pro-choice resources in the Lone Star State were just dealt a body blow. Literally overnight, Texas closed down 13 of its abortion clinics, leaving a meager seven clinics open to women seeking abortions and other related medical services. These remaining clinics are localized in metropolitan areas, effectively leaving women who live in the center of the second-largest state stranded.
This massive setback for reproductive rights advocates is the result of an anti-choice omnibus package designed to curtail and limit women's access to abortion services, called HB 2. The law was upheld on Thursday by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans, meaning that all across the state, women arrived at clinics over the weekend only to find they were no longer in operation.
HB 2 requires that all abortion clinics become ambulatory surgical centers, a stipulation that is costly — too costly for some local clinics in more rural areas. In addition to being forced to transform immediately into "mini-hospitals," explains Laura Bassett at the Huffington Post, "another provision of the same law requires all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, even if there is no hospital in the area willing to grant such privileges. The two provisions together have closed about 80% of the 44 clinics that were operating in the state just a year ago."
Proponents of the law argue that it's actually about protecting women by mandating that all clinics adhere to stringent safety precautions.
"Women will be safer from Big Abortion's deadly, neglect [sic] and callous practices as a result of this courageous 5th Circuit Court ruling," said Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest, according to the Huffington Post. "Women won in Texas today. Without today's ruling, women and their unborn children would bear the deadly risk of abortion clinics that operate with substandard practices."
But this statement is not supported by the preponderance of scientific evidence. A number of medical experts have come out to publicly condemn the law, agreeing that it does nothing to improve the safety of abortion clinics and instead is an overt attack on women's reproductive rights. "Abortion is already an incredibly safe medical procedure that's less risky than colonoscopies, gallbladder surgery, knee replacement surgery, or giving birth to a child," reports ThinkProgress. "Both the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose requiring abortion providers to get hospital admitting privileges. ACOG also opposes imposing additional building code requirements on clinics."
The potential consequences of the mass shutdown will disproportionately fall on women who live outside metropolitan hubs, a population that may be unable to afford the additional costs a trip to a faraway clinic may incur.
RH Reality Check calculated that a woman from the Rio Grande Valley traveling to the closest abortion clinic will have to spend at least $1,000 — "between $1,101 and $1,599, depending on the number of nights spent away from home" — to procure an abortion.
On Friday, Elvia Yamell Hamdan, 44, traveled for three hours to get to the Whole Woman's Health clinic for a scheduled appointment, reported the New York Times. However, when the mother of four (and grandmother of another three) arrived at the clinic, staff notified them that the clinic had been shut down, and that they would need to travel another 240 miles north to San Antonio for the procedure.
"When I got here, I found out the law had changed yesterday," she told the New York Times. "I thought, 'How is that possible?'"
Hamdan's confusion is warranted. And while she had the resources, not to mention the resolve, to make the trip, many other women will doubtless face a painfully difficult choice.
In June, gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis celebrated the one-year anniversary of her famous filibuster of this very piece of legislation. Davis, who remains 11 points behind Republican Greg Abbott in the polls, fought for 11 straight hours last summer in a brave but ultimately doomed fight. Twelve months later, however, it seems the women of Texas need a champion more than ever.