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Women’s Clinics Outside of Texas See Surge in Abortion Refugees

September 14, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
A security guard opens the door to the Whole Women's Health Clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Clinics outside of Texas are seeing an increase in women traveling across state lines to get abortions only two weeks after Senate Bill 8, a Texas law which bans nearly all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy before most women know they’re pregnant, became effective. 

“We have seen a tremendous surge in Texas patients. We had 23 surgical patients in one day and 15 of those were Texas residents. We expect this to continue as long as the restrictions exist in Texas,” said Andrea Gallegos, executive director of Tulsa Women’s Clinic. 

The Tulsa Women’s Clinic in Oklahoma is located over 400 miles from the border of Texas, but Gallegos said even prior to SB 8 the clinic saw women coming from North Texas seeking abortions, and now women are coming from all over the state of Texas.

Based on research from the American Civil Liberties Union, 85-90% of abortions in Texas occur after six weeks of pregnancy. 

While Texan women who fall within that 85-90% will still be able to get abortion outside the state of Texas, it does not necessarily mean that bordering states, like Oklahoma, will be more accepting of a woman’s right to choose. 

According to a study from the Guttmacher Institute, for a vast majority of Texas women of reproductive age the next nearest abortion clinic would be in states that have hostile abortion policies where patients have already struggled to receive care and will still be subject to those states’ punitive and burdensome restrictions.

Louisiana, for example, has a two-visit requirement before an abortion appointment can be scheduled.

In Oklahoma, a woman must wait 72 hours efore scheduling an abortion.

“Oklahoma has a 72-hour waiting period from the time we read them a state required mandate to when they can be seen. This is completed when the woman calls us to schedule, and this can be a barrier to some patients when they are trying to get an appointment as soon as possible,” said Gallegos.

“If SB 8 is not overturned, it is likely Oklahoma and other conservative states will see similar laws passed,” said Gallegos.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain Region, which covers Colorado, New Mexico, Southern Nevada, and Wyoming, has also seen more women from Texas who are seeking abortions.

“It’s a little early yet, but we’re certainly beginning to see an increase in Texas patients making abortion care appointments at health centers throughout our Rocky Mountain region. Most Texas patients come to our locations in Colorado and New Mexico,” said Neta Meltzer, director of strategic communications for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain region. 

Meltzer said that in the weeks leading up to the enactment of SB 8, the clinics located in the four-state region saw anywhere from five-20 patients from Texas making appointments. 

“In the last two weeks since then that number is increasing steadily, with 32 patients making appointments the first week of September and 49 the second week. Patients are truly seeking care wherever they can, going as far north as our Fort Collins health center and as far west as our locations in Las Vegas,” said Meltzer. 

Meltzer said Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain region clinics also saw patients from almost every state in the country last year, not just Texas.

“In part, I think this speaks to the difficulty many patients have accessing abortion care in their home communities. A state doesn’t have to ban abortion outright in order to make it virtually inaccessible. Putting various, medically unnecessary barriers in patients’ paths force many to travel for the care they need, and the injustice of this is that not all patients have the time, the means, and the ability to do so,” said Meltzer. 

When it comes to women receiving assistance within the state of Texas, there are women’s clinics like the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, a reproductive health care clinic and advocacy organization that operates in several states, including Texas. 

On Aug. 31, doctors at the Fort Worth clinic stayed until midnight, treating patients who flocked to the clinic to get an abortion before the law became effective on Sept. 1. 

Jackie Dilworth, director of marketing and communications at the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said that four of the clinics within the state are still operational and complying with SB 8. 

“If embryonic or fetal cardiac activity is detected, which usually happens around six weeks of pregnancy, we are unable to provide abortion services. Because of this, we are turning away the majority of patients who walk through our doors. What hasn’t changed is that we still provide a listening ear to anyone who needs it as most people seeking abortion care don’t have anyone else to talk to,” said Dilworth.

Dilworth said the clinic also provides a stigma relief fund for patients who cannot afford to pay the entire cost of an abortion, which is almost always given in addition to what local abortion funds provide. 

“Our main priority right now is to keep our staff employed and our doors open in Texas, and we are losing over $500,000 a month in our efforts to comply with SB 8,” said Dilworth.

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