The U.S. Supreme Court just put a hold on provisions of a Texas law that threatens to eviscerate access to safe, legal abortion in the state for tens of thousands of women. The Oct. 14 order temporarily allows health centers that were forced to close earlier this month to resume providing abortions.
This week’s Supreme Court order came in response to an Oct. 2 appeals court decision that, overnight, required Texas abortion providers to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center (ASC, a small-scale hospital). Although supporters say the law is supposed “to improve patient safety,” the ASC designation makes no medical sense for abortion because ASCs are built for far riskier procedures. The onerous and medically unnecessary regulations — which include specific widths for hallways — are really designed to shut down abortion providers when they can’t comply. And that’s just what happened.
Health Care Crisis for Texas Women
The Oct. 2 appeals court decision forced more than a dozen providers to stop abortion services, leaving just eight providers open in Texas. More than 900,000 women of reproductive age were stranded without access to their constitutional right to a safe, legal abortion since the remaining providers were at least 150 miles away.
During the two weeks that the restrictions were in effect, they had heartbreaking consequences for women. Within hours of the news, facilities had to cancel a slew of appointments, even for women who had already begun an abortion. Planned Parenthood witnessed the catastrophic impact:
- Planned Parenthood health centers were inundated with calls from frightened and upset patients. Many of these calls were from women living far from Planned Parenthood health centers in areas where no providers were open.
- Planned Parenthood providers saw women line up outside the doors in the morning in the hopes of getting the care they need.
- A Planned Parenthood health center in Houston reported hearing desperate stories from women in tragic situations.
Despite Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s claim that all this is merely a “manageable” "inconvenience," it actually is an unreasonable burden — especially for rural, low-income women. In rural areas it could be virtually impossible for some women to access safe, legal abortion. A typical woman in the rural Rio Grande Valley would pay more than a month's wages and travel seven hours round-trip to access abortion services, according to RH Reality Check.
Here's what closing 80 percent of Texas' abortion providers looked like:
A Win for Women...
...But the Fight is Not Over
The Supreme Court’s intervention doesn’t mean the dangerous Texas law is overturned. It just keeps the final provisions of the law from taking effect while the appeals court decides on their constitutionality, likely in the next several months.
If the courts ultimately rule against women, the same health centers may be forced to shut down again, leaving just eight abortion providers in Texas once again.
It’s Not Just Texas:
Abortion Restrictions Around the U.S.
The anti-women's health movement has been dialing up efforts to eliminate access to abortion through TRAP bills across the country (see gray box below). For the most part, courts are recognizing the burdens TRAP laws cause and are seeing through claims that they help women. Luckily, courts have recently stopped TRAP laws in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wisconsin from taking full effect.
But these cases are far from over. These restrictions, and others like them, continue to threaten women’s access to safe and legal abortion throughout the country.
This Is Why Elections Matter
As Texas women face a health care disaster, similar fates loom for women nationwide as candidates who support such laws vie for office in the U.S. Senate.
“The crisis in Texas is a cautionary tale that could apply to every single woman across the United States if we allow anti-women’s health politicians to take control of the Senate, like they’ve already done in the House of Representatives,” Planned Parenthood Votes President Cecile Richards wrote in Cosmopolitan.
Politicians passing these laws aren’t counting on women fighting back. But they have another thing coming. Join the fight for 2014.
All About Restricting Access,
Not About Safety
The new Texas law imposes some of the worst targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP), which place unreasonable requirements on health care centers. Here are the top three things you need to know about TRAP laws:
- Leaders in the anti-abortion movement have touted these laws as “safety” measures when they have nothing to do with improving the health of women — and everything to do with politics and restricting women’s access to abortion. An anti-abortion movement leader was even caught admitting that it’s about restricting access to abortion. There has been a traveling roadshow of dubious testimony in support of these laws in the courts.
- The medical community opposes TRAP laws because reproductive health care services are among the safest and mostly commonly sought forms of care in the United States. Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that abortion has over a 99% safety record. Leading women’s health providers confirm that abortion is safe, and that TRAP laws actually put women at risk because they force quality health care providers to close.
- Medical experts like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose requiring abortion providers to gain ASC designation, like the one that caused the latest crisis in Texas, because it puts safe abortion out of reach for so many women.