A new report released by the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Policy Evaluation Project found patients seeking abortions in Texas have experienced an increase in wait times since the passage of HB2, the 2013 Texas omnibus anti-abortion bill that attempts to cut off abortion access by requiring abortion providers in the state to fulfill medically unnecessary ambulatory surgical center requirements and secure hospital admitting privileges.
More than half of 42 clinics providing abortion in Texas have been forced to shut their doors since HB2 passed two years ago, leading Texas women to wait up to 20 days for a first consult at one of the surviving 18 reproductive health clinics operating in the state, the second most populous in the nation. In cities like Dallas, where one of the state’s most high-volume clinics was shuttered in June, patients saw wait times rise to 20 days, while in neighboring Fort Worth, the wait list to obtain an abortion grew as long as 23 days since the study began late last year. Austin, Houston and San Antonio also experienced increases, each spiking at 23 days, 13 days and 9 days, respectively.
“Texans are now forced to undertake multiple, unnecessary visits to clinics that are now farther away; they take more days off of work, lose income, have to find childcare, and arrange and pay for transportation for hundreds of miles,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. “A woman’s ability to get safe medical care should not depend on whether she has the resources necessary to navigate a horrific and complex obstacle course dreamt up by anti-choice lawmakers. This is the real world and these laws have real implications on real women’s lives.”
Hagstrom Miller is one of the lead plaintiffs represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights in a lawsuit challenging HB2’s ambulatory surgical center (ASC) and admitting privileges requirements as unconstitutional. In August 2014, a federal district court blocked both restrictions as unconstitutional. Texas appealed, and the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in in October 2014 that both restrictions could take effect even though the case was still being heard in court, leaving Texas with only 7 clinics providing abortion. The Supreme Court immediately stepped in, temporarily blocking enforcement of the ASC requirement statewide and blocking enforcement of the admitting privileges requirement in McAllen and El Paso until the Fifth Circuit could make a final ruling on the law’s constitutionality. More than a dozen clinics reopened as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Just this past June, however, the Fifth Circuit issued its final decision on the case, reversing the district court and upholding both requirements. The Supreme Court once again stepped in to temporarily block the decision, maintaining the status quo while the clinics continued their legal challenge.
The Center for Reproductive Rights last month filed a formal request for the Supreme Court to review the case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. The Court should rule on this request by the end of the year. Should the Court deny review, more than 75 percent of abortion clinics in Texas would close, cutting off access to safe, legal abortion for millions of Texas women and forcing wait times at remaining clinics to continue to rise.
Media Resources: Texas Policy Evaluation Project 10/5/15; Center for Reproductive Rights 10/5/15, 9/3/15; Feminist Newswire 6/29/15, 10/15/14, 10/3/14, 9/3/14