Hours after Texas’s latest and most draconian abortion law went into effect, the few clinics left in the state opened their doors on Wednesday under a drastically different reality in which patients face a whole new set of challenges.
“It's hard enough yesterday for a person living in rural Texas to make it to one of the very few clinics we have serving our state,” Cristina Parker with the Lilith Fund told BuzzFeed News. “It creates all these hurdles that people have to jump over just to access basic, essential time-sensitive healthcare. It's just unbelievably cruel.”
The law, SB 8, went into effect at the stroke of midnight after the Supreme Court failed to take action on an emergency appeal, effectively outlawing the vast majority of abortion procedures overnight. It bans abortions as soon as cardiac activity is detected in the fetus, which could be as early as 6 weeks, or a single missed period. It also enables members of the public to enforce the law, allowing them to sue anyone involved in the abortion — from abortion providers to the person who drives a patient to the clinic or lends them money for the procedure.
“This law doesn't do anything to prevent unplanned pregnancies, to support people, to build families, and to [give] them resources. It doesn't do anything to comfort people or provide healthcare,” Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Woman’s Health, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit to block SB 8, told BuzzFeed News. “It's blocking people who need safe and legal abortion care from getting that care with trained professionals like us.”
Already a state with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, Texas requires patients to undergo a sonogram, where an abortion provider must display and explain the image; receive a state-mandated booklet about the fetus’s development and adoption alternatives that contains false information; and then wait 24 hours before the procedure can be performed. Dozens of abortion clinics in Texas have closed down in the past decade, forcing patients to travel hours to reach a provider. State law also forbids health insurance companies from covering abortion except in extreme situations where the pregnant person’s life is at risk.
Advocates who spoke to BuzzFeed News said the latest restriction will send more people out of state for abortions, but realistically, that option is simply out of reach for many people who do not have the resources to travel and who will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.
The law also further complicates things for minors who want to get an abortion without parental consent, said Rosann Mariappuram, the executive director of Jane’s Due Process, a group that helps Texas teenagers under 18 access abortion, including obtaining a court order that allows a minor to bypass parental consent or notification for an abortion.
“It’s incredibly hard because they are minors. They just don't have the resources, or in some cases, the privacy to leave the state, because leaving would then basically reveal they're pregnant,” Mariappuram told BuzzFeed News. “So for our clients, we're concerned that this law is a total abortion ban.”
The Supreme Court’s silence on the case has left Texas abortion rights in limbo. Abortion providers are complying with the new law while waiting for a possible injunction that would provide immediate, though temporary, relief for patients further along than 6 weeks in their pregnancy. But that also forces patients to decide between two difficult options: Do they try to travel out of state for an abortion as soon as they can, or do they wait and hope the Supreme Court blocks the law before they reach the state’s previous limit at 20 weeks gestation?
“Someone who maybe is more able to travel is probably looking at travel as a more viable option, but someone who's not is probably just sitting and hoping that the Supreme Court does the right thing for Texans,” Parker said.
Advocacy groups say they are frustrated that the law essentially happened overnight because of the Supreme Court’s inaction.
“This is basically taking away the right to abortion in Texas — is that not an emergency? Why has the court not intervened?” Mariappuram said.
Many fear that the law will have a chilling effect on Texans who want an abortion. A “haunting quietness” set on the Lilith Fund hotline on Wednesday morning, Parker said, though she hopes it will pick up as people start scheduling appointments out of state.
In the days leading up to the midnight deadline, Fund Texas Choice, a fund that helps Texans pay for travel expenses to go to an abortion clinic, fielded calls from multiple people asking about SB 8, said co-executive director Anna Rupani.
Rupani told BuzzFeed News that Fund Texas Choice has had to stress to patients that abortion, though severely limited, is not totally outlawed in the state.
“People think that it's completely illegal and they're not going to get any access to services, period, from here on out,” she said. “So just reminding folks that, even though it's harder to access, Texas organizations on the ground are willing and able to support you. And if you reach out, we will be there.”