5 Ugly Facts About the New Texas Abortion Bill

On Thursday, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law HB2, which makes abortion after 20 weeks illegal and introduces a host of other restrictions that will close a majority of abortion clinics in the state. Here are 5 ugly implications of this new law.

1. The only way for many women to end their pregnancies will be "star pills."

More women will smuggle Cytotec (misoprostol) over the border from Mexico and start using it as an abortion drug. These "star pills," originally developed as a heartburn drug, are sometimes used by obstetricians and gynecologists off-label for procedures like cervical ripening, labor induction, and yes, mid-trimester terminations. The pills are often used in Latin America, and the women who take them arrive in the emergency room appearing to have had a miscarriage rather than having intentionally ended the pregnancy.

With medical supervision, the pill is combined with RU486 or another drug. Taken alone, it is only 80-85% effective for ending a pregnancy (more like 30% when used improperly, according to Dr. Lester Minto, a family physician who also runs the Reproductive Services Clinic in Harlingen, Texas). The pill causes birth defects, many doctors suspect, in fetuses that survive its use. 

The only context in which misoprostol will likely be taken is without medical oversight, as the new bill will ban most non-surgical abortions.

2. Abortion providers must now be located within 30 miles of a hospital.

Have you looked at Texas lately? Well, it's enormous, and gas isn't getting any cheaper. Some women in Texas live as far as 900 miles from an abortion clinic. Abortion clinics will start to gravitate toward geographically central, often urban, areas that have large hospitals. Most clinics, however, will simply be forced to close. This bill will shutter all but five or six of the state's abortion clinics. Areas like West Texas will be left completely without coverage, the New Republic points out.

3. Under the new rules, the procedure for an abortion now takes three days.

So seeking out such a procedure would mean staying overnight in a hotel for three days. On the first day, a woman must now get a sonogram and an explanation of the procedure. On the second day, she receives RU 486, which makes the fetus nonviable. On the third day, she will receive the misoprostol, which will finally expel the fetus. The gas and hotel bills racked up during this procedure will surely render medically supervised abortion an impossibility for Texas's poorest women. 

4. The law will ban abortions after 20 weeks.

This law exposes Texas lawmakers at their worst: only willing to listen to evidence that agrees with their political views. Its basis is a now-discredited scientific assertion that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. Just before they reach 20 weeks into their pregnancies, women receive a battery of tests that will be indicative of their child's future health, such as anatomical sonograms and ultrasounds of the heart. At Slate, pediatric doctor Darshak Sanghavi pointed out that only 1% of all abortions take place after this 20-week cutoff, but the disorders that crop up after that time are often the most severe. The bill makes exceptions for abnormalities "incompatible with life outside the womb," but many conditions, such as those resulting in persistent vegetative states, fit this rule rather nebulously.

5. It creates a precedent for uglier, more wide-ranging laws.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1797, or the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child act," which bans abortions after 20 weeks as well but allows no exception for fetal abnormalities. The bill was most recently referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and likely won't reach the Senate itself for a while, giving activists like the ACLU time to rally against this "Taliban Texas" bill from becoming the national norm.

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Rachel Pincus

I recently graduated from Wesleyan University. My interests include the environment, technology and feminism.

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