This week, Planned Parenthood returned to court, asking a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to uphold a ruling of a federal district court blocking a Texas law that when it took effect was projected to eliminate access to safe, legal abortion for one out of three Texas women in need. The provisions are part of a package of legislation opposed by 80 percent of Texas voters. Despite an outpouring of opposition, including rallies of more than 6,000 people at the capitol, 34,000 letters to legislators and testimony in opposition from more than 2,300 people, Governor Rick Perry signed the package of legislation into law on July 18, 2013.
It wasn’t only the public who opposed this legislation, medical experts in Texas and across the country, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA), publicly opposed provisions in the law because they provide no medical benefit to women and will actually jeopardize women’s health and safety. Under Texas' new abortion restrictions, which require, among other things, that physicians who provide abortion obtain staff privileges at a local hospital, thousands of women may lose access to abortion altogether, while others will have to drive hundreds of miles to access a safe and legal abortion—that's assuming a woman has access to a car, can take off work or school, can arrange child care, and so on. This is on top of other onerous restrictions already imposed by the state, including a cruel and demeaning mandatory ultrasound law.
A lot has taken place in the last few days in Texas, and we’ve pulled together a few of the best stories to help get you caught up:
Want to know what’s been taking place in the court room? Irin Carmon has the highlights in her piece for MSNBC: “Judges ask: How bad is too bad for Texas women seeking abortions” — “Would closing a third of the state’s clinics by requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges within 30 miles be an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to an abortion? What if a handful of those doctors had got admitting privileges to reopen those clinics some of the time? Was it going too far if 22,000 Texas women who wanted abortions couldn’t get them? What if the actual number was a little lower? In questioning the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Janet Crepps, who was arguing on behalf of abortion providers in the state, Judge Edith Jones opined that making women drive an extra 150 miles to an abortion clinic wasn’t so bad. 'Do you know how long that takes in Texas?’ she said, grinning. ‘Seventy-five miles an hour, flat highway, no congestion?’”
The judges may be asking the question how bad is too bad, but outside of the court room, real women are already suffering from layer upon layer of restrictions that have put basic, preventive health care—including birth control and well-woman exams—out of reach for thousands. The situation may be at its worst for women in the Rio Grande Valley, as described by Lindsay Beyerstein with Al Jazeera America: “Texas anti-abortion law forces women to make tough choices” – “In theory, Roe v. Wade established every American woman's constitutional right to an abortion. In South Texas' Lower Rio Grande Valley, however, women seeking abortions can get them only if they have the time and money to travel hundreds of miles….[Whole Woman's Health McAllen (WWHM)] is the only abortion clinic in this border city of 134,000. Right now, according to WWHM's Fatimah Gifford, if a woman in the Rio Grande Valley needs an abortion, she has to travel 240 miles north to San Antonio.”
The latest restrictions are part of a growing catastrophe for low-income women. The reality today is many of the Texas women hurt by these restrictions are the same women who lost access to preventive health care, including birth control, due to cruel and dangerous budget cuts over the preceding years. This article by Jordan Smith with the Austin Chronicle shows the bigger picture. “Texas Family Planning (Still) Costs More, Serves Fewer Women” — “In fiscal year 2013 – for the second year in a row – the number of women served by the state's family planning budget dropped dramatically, while costing the state significantly more money per patient. According to documents from the Department of State Health Services filed with the State Health Services Council agenda for Nov. 20, the state's budget for reproductive health and family planning for uninsured, low-income women served just 47,322 clients, a drastic 77% decrease over the 202,968 clients served in 2011 – the last year the program was fully funded….”