By CECILIA BOONE
My husband, my children, some of my friends and I are exchanging texts as fast as our fingers will fly. It’s a victory: a victory for women in Texas. Of course I mean the Supreme Court decision in Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt.
In case you don’t live and breathe these issues like I do, in 2013 the Texas legislature passed House Bill 2, a bill that required that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals and that even early procedures, including “medication abortions” that involve only taking two pills, take place in expensive ambulatory surgical centers. Anti-choice legislators claimed that all of this was done in the name of “protecting women’s health,” in spite of multiple studies that have shown that abortion is one of the safest surgical procedure for women in the United States.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Fewer than 0.5 percent of women obtaining abortions experience a complication, and the risk of death associated with abortion is about one-tenth that associated with childbirth.”
Within a few months after HB2 passed, about half of the abortion clinics in Texas were forced to close because they were not able to comply with the provisions. That left all 268,000 square miles of Texas with 18 abortion clinics, most of them east of Interstate 35. One hundred counties are more than 100 miles away from the nearest Texas abortion facility, and 21 counties are more than 250 miles away. And Texas law requires a 24-hour waiting period for women before an abortion can be performed.
Remember, in the U.S. the right to have a safe abortion without undue burden is the law of the land.
As The Dallas Morning News pointed out, the greatest part of the undeniable burden of so few clinics falls on the shoulders of rural, low-income women. These women may well have to make the decision to miss two or three days of work and the income. They may well have to make the decision to leave their other child or children with family or friends, if that is even possible. More than half of the women who seek abortions have one or more children.
Lack of access naturally drives women to seek other solutions. In a public statement to Planned Parenthood, a patient identified as Abby, says:
“Because I lived in Texas… the waits at any clinic I could find kept me from being able to get birth control. I discovered I was pregnant in April… The only clinic I could get to was hours away, and they did not perform abortions there. In a panic, I went online and researched methods of terminating pregnancy, and discovered that I could buy the medical abortion pill from a Chinese pharmacy online.”
As momentous as this Supreme Court decision is, it will not help women like Abby right away. The clinics that closed have lost staff, lost leases and lost their places in the community. All of these things take time to rebuild. The damage this law, and others like it, have done to women’s access to reproductive health care is severe, and it will take time to rebuild the women’s health care network in this state.
So, there is much to celebrate today for women’s healthcare in Texas. This Supreme Court ruling is a solid victory for us and for women in other states where similar forms of restrictive legislation are in place or being considered. But there is still so much to do to ensure not only that women have the right to determine whether and when to become pregnant, but that they also have the ability to exercise that right.
Cecilia Boone is the former chair of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.