Women's health is under heavy attack in Texas, and the hits keep coming. On October 19, state officials cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood; just a few days later, the health department "raided" Planned Parenthood centers in several Texas cities, demanding that the organization hand over years of health records.
But these anti-choice victories are just two in a series of many. In 2011, Texas passed a law that forced women seeking abortions to get sonograms, listen to a description of the fetus, and wait 24 hours before receiving the procedure. That law also forced doctors to read a medically dubious script telling women, among other things, that abortions might increase their risk of breast cancer.
In 2013, the Texas legislature signed House Bill 2. That's the bill Wendy Davis filibustered her heart out against. It imposed unnecessary and expensive building guidelines on abortion clinics. As of June 2015, there were only 18 abortion clinics left in Texas, down from 41 in 2012. The final provision of House Bill 2 was meant to go into effect on July 1, 2015, but the Supreme Court stepped in and temporarily stopped it from proceeding. If this last provision had been enacted, there would be fewer than 10 abortion clinics left in Texas, a state where over 12 million women live.
In mid-November, the Supreme Court decided to take up the case against House Bill 2, though it will probably not hear the case for several more months. Women in Texas are already suffering as they wait for a final decision. Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the organizations that filed the Texas case with the Supreme Court, says that she's already hearing from Texas health-care providers that they're "seeing an increase in women buying misoprostolon the black market and self-inducing." Women are also having to wait far longer to get the abortions they need: A University of Texas study released in October showed that women must wait as long as 20 days to get appointments at clinics now that there are so few of them.
We spoke with an abortion provider in Texas, Dr. Bhavik Kumar, about what he's seeing on the ground at the clinics where he works, how abortion stigma hurts women, and what he thinks will happen if Texas loses even more abortion clinics.
Jessica Grose: What's a typical workday like for you?
Bhavik Kumar: A typical day at either of the clinics where I work at is busy. We start around 8 a.m. seeing patients. Some days are SMI days — state-mandated info. That's when we have to read a script to women, and after that, they need to wait 24 hours [to get an abortion]. With the same number of women trying to access care [as before the HB2 restrictions], we're seeing longer wait times and higher volumes of women.
One of the clinics where I work is in San Antonio. That's in Central Texas, south of Austin. One is in Fort Worth. At the Fort Worth clinic, we see a lot of women from West Texas, which has no abortion clinics. There are currently two in Fort Worth, and there are two or three in Dallas, which is about an hour away.
JG: How far are women traveling to reach you?
BK: At Fort Worth, some women have traveled as far as five hours one way to get to the clinic, and then another five back. That means they have to stay the night at least one night to have their 24-hour waiting period go by. That's ten hours round-trip that some women are traveling, for a roughly five-minute procedure.