Abortion rights curtailed in Texas

On Oct. 2, with a wave of its judicial wand, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals shut down 14 of the 21 abortion clinics serving women in the state of Texas.

Its long-awaited, but not unexpected, reactionary decision upheld the harsh, medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion services in the Texas bill known as HB2. The court said the bill will not impose an “undue burden” on the reproductive rights of the 5.4 million women of childbearing age who live in the second-largest U.S. state by area. It’s estimated that 1 million women will have to travel a minimum of 300 miles roundtrip to access services in the seven remaining clinics in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Women’s organizations, reproductive rights, and progressive civil and human rights groups in the U.S. united to protest this outrageous decision. Calling it a “health care crisis” for women, they denounced how it will disproportionately affect the poor — women of color, low-wage women workers, immigrants, youth, the disabled and those living in rural areas.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the lead plaintiff in the case, plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Nancy Northrup, CRR president and CEO, told Salon on Oct. 3 that “it will be a showdown we haven’t seen in two decades on whether the promise of Roe v. Wade will having meaning for women in the U.S.” In an Oct. 2 CRR press release she noted: “All Texas women have been relegated today to a second class of citizens” with poor women “particularly hard hit by this devastating blow.”

HB2 passed in 2013, despite the heroic defense of women’s constitutional right to legal abortion led by state Sen. Wendy Davis, several women-of-color legislators and hundreds of women activists. It contains four regulations. Taken together, they impose the most severe restrictions on access to abortion in the U.S.

Three of them went into effect on Oct. 29, 2013. Now doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic; abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization are banned except to avoid the woman’s death or serious risk to health; and new rules for medical abortions require four doctor visits.

The fourth and most stringent regulation — which is blatantly “burdensome” — is that all clinics had to be ambulatory surgical centers (ASC) as of Sept. 1, 2014. The Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology strongly opposed this regulation on July 2, 2013: “[It is] plainly intended to restrict the reproductive rights of women in Texas through a series of requirements that improperly regulate medical practice and interfere with the patient-physician relationship.”

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, who ran five Whole Women’s Health clinics, had to shutter four of them in the Rio Grande Valley in 2013. Fortunately, the clinic she bought in San Antonio was already an ASC. She says she does not have $12 million to turn the four into ASCs at $3 million apiece. (Think Progress, Oct. 3)

Hagstrom-Miller says her clinic in McAllen averaged 20 to 50 abortions a week, but since Oct. 29, 2013, she has been able to assist only 20 to 25 women seeking abortions upstate. “There is the idea that abortion clinics exist. But it’s not a reality for the thousands of women who have been left behind.” (Salon, Oct. 3)

RH Reality Check estimates it will now cost a hypothetical minimum-wage-earning, single mother living in the Rio Grande Valley between $1,101 and $1,599 for an abortion that would have cost about $500 in McAllen, whose clinic was closed in 2013. Not only will she need childcare for one or two days for her 3-year-old, but she will lose wages for those days, on top of paying for food, hotel and gas. (“No Undue Burden? What Texas’ HB2 Means for Maria,” Oct. 3)

Right-wing agenda behind harsh restrictions

What’s wildly ironic is that these kinds of harsh restrictions are being done in the name of promoting women’s and children’s health. But “Evaluating Priorities,” a new study issued Oct. 1 by CRR and Ibis Reproductive Health, exposes that the states with the most stringent abortion restrictions have failed to pass laws that actually promote the health and well-being of women and children.

More than 250 bills restricting abortion were introduced in 40 states in 2014. According to the Think Progress article, 8.6 million women of reproductive age live in 12 states, mostly in the South, that combined have only 12 clinics.

What anti-social, deeply misogynistic forces are behind these viciously anti-poor laws? No surprise. It’s the same right-wing forces that were behind the Citizens United case, when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2010 that corporations have the same rights as individuals — the Koch brothers, who should be crowned “kings of the U.S. oligarchs.”

Though they claim to be solely against regulation of industry and for “free enterprise,” these two, who run the second-largest privately owned U.S. company with 2013 revenues of $115 billion, were outed on Oct. 3 as anti-choice. (“American” [U.S.] Prospect) The list of socially useful measures they oppose includes universal health care, anti-fossil-fuel climate change initiatives, public schools and Social Security. They are institutionalizing their father’s anti-communist mission; Fred Koch was a founding member of the racist, neofascist, anti-working class John Birch Society.

Reproductive justice groups, as well as those promoting human and civil rights, are determined to mount a united fightback campaign. For more information and to help Texas women get needed health care, visit fundtexaschoice.org.