Over the last few years Republican-controlled legislatures have passed hundreds of laws designed to make the right to choose an abortion die by a thousand cuts. Lindsay Beyerstein writes about how effective this has been in Texas, where in wide swaths of the state this right exists in name only, not in reality.
The anti-abortion legal group Americans United for Life says that several years of “aggressive legislative action” have transformed Texas into one of the most abortion-unfriendly states in the country. In 2000, Texas imposed a parental-notification requirement for minors. Since 2004, Texas has required that abortions after 16 weeks be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, which offer hospital-grade operating rooms suitable for gastric-bypass surgery or back surgery outside a hospital. (Abortion has complication rates comparable to wisdom tooth extraction and other procedures that are routinely performed in medical offices and clinics. Fewer than 0.05 percent result in complications serious enough to require hospitalization.)
Two years later, the state tightened the maternal-health exemption for third-trimester abortions and switched from parental notification for minors to parental consent. In 2011 the state imposed mandatory ultrasounds and a 24-hour waiting period between the scan and the procedure. This July, Gov. Rick Perry signed into law the sweeping House Bill 2, which requires that all abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital, mandates an outdated protocol for medication abortions and bans all abortions after 20 weeks. The law also requires that all abortions be performed in outpatient surgery clinics, but that requirement doesn’t take effect until October 2014.
The legal challenge brought by Planned Parenthood and a coalition of Texas abortion providers focuses on two requirements that came into effect first: local admitting privileges and medication abortions. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the admitting-privileges requirement lacked any medical justification and granted an injunction to hold that requirement in abeyance until Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit could be decided. However, on Oct. 31, a three-judge panel from the 5th Circuit overruled Yeakel and brought H.B. 2’s admitting privileges provision into effect immediately. Planned Parenthood asked the Supreme Court to block the law until the 5th Circuit could hear the case this month, but on Nov. 19 the Supreme Court refused to put H.B. 2 on hold while the conservative 5th Circuit makes up its mind.
The Valley used to have two abortion providers — Whole Woman’s Health McAllen (WWHM) and Reproductive Services of Harlingen — but now it has none that currently offer abortions, because their doctors lack admitting privileges. (Emergency rooms are required to provide the same care to all patients, regardless of whether their doctors have admitting privileges there. While the doctors at WWHM are applying for privileges at local hospitals, Reproductive Services of Harlingen’s physician has already been turned down by all the hospitals in his area.) Even if Planned Parenthood wins its lawsuit, abortions will still have to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers by this time next year, which means that neither clinic can continue to operate in its current facility.
This was the goal all along, to put the right to choose out of reach for most women. My friend Robin Marty wrote about this in her new book Crow After Roe: How “Separate But Equal” Has Become the New Standard In Womens Health And How We Can Change That, documenting the fact that the right to choose is now all but a memory for poor women in much of the country.