In just over the past year, the number of abortion clinics in Texas fell from 41 to 20, and watchdogs say that as few as six may be left by September.
Many of those closed because of the requirement that doctors at those clinics obtain hospital admitting privileges within a certain radius of the clinic, and many doctors couldn’t comply. That requirement began November 1. This week marks the one-year anniversary of the law that started it all.
Bitter fighting over the law last summer propelled state senator Wendy Davis into the national spotlight, and she is now running for Texas governor on the Democratic ticket.
“We’re seeing delays,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “We’re seeing people being pushed further into pregnancy, having to leave the state, having to drive and sleep in their cars in parking lots because of these barriers to access.”
The last restriction under the law goes into effect Sept. 1. All abortion clinics at that point must have upgraded their facilities to ambulatory surgery centers. Busby says many can’t afford it and more will close.
“This would basically force all the clinics to become mini-hospitals,” Busby said. “They have to have hallway widths a certain length, and a janitor’s closet, male and female locker rooms, which is completely unnecessary – and a bunch of other regulations that are really not appropriate or do anything to increase the safety of one of the safest procedures in the country.”
Pro-life groups supported the law, saying it would protect women by making abortion safer. At the time of the passage of the law, The Texas Tribune quoted Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell saying: “There’s nothing in this legislation that will close a clinic. … That’s up to the clinic. If they want to put profit over a person, that’s up to them.”
Busby said abortion is already one of the safest office-based medical procedures, with a complication rate of less than .05 percent.
Busby predicted that after September only six or eight places will be left in Texas to get an abortion, unless a lawsuit stops the new requirement from going into effect. Whole Woman’s Health is part of that lawsuit. The group previously had six reproductive health clinics in Texas, but had to close two clinics over the past year, Busby said. It may have to close an additional three clinics that don’t meet the new surgical center specifications, in Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio. It would be left with just one other clinic in San Antonio that meets the new requirements.
Busby noted there are now no abortion clinics in all of East Texas or in the Rio Grande Valley. She said the one clinic left in El Paso could close soon.
In Houston, the newly-built headquarters of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast does fulfill the ambulatory surgical center requirements, so it will remain open. But the status of smaller clinics remains unclear.
A call and email to Texas Right to Life for comment was not returned.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. (Photo by Texas State Library and Archives Commission via Flickr)