Analysis Abortion

We Won’t Forget: The End of Safe, Legal Abortion Care in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley [Video]

Andrea Grimes

Senior political reporter Andrea Grimes traveled to McAllen's Whole Woman's clinic, one of the last abortion clinics in the Rio Grande Valley, for a candlelight vigil marking the closure of a building where Texans have gone for safe, legal abortion care since Roe v. Wade.

Two more reproductive health clinics in Texas have closed, as the state comes closer to shuttering all but the six legal abortion providers that can comply with its new omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2.

The two clinics, in southeast Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley, were both part of the Whole Woman’s Health organization. Now, the thousands of patients they saw each year will be forced either to carry their unplanned pregnancies to term, travel hundreds of miles for legal abortions, or take matters into their own hands.

Senior political reporter Andrea Grimes traveled to McAllen’s Whole Woman’s clinic, one of the last abortion clinics in the Rio Grande Valley, for a candlelight vigil marking the closure of a building where Texans have gone for safe, legal abortion care since Roe v. Wade.

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Transcript:

[opening slides with Rewire logo]

[Scenes of South Texans lighting candles]

Title: We Won’t Forget: the End of Safe, Legal Abortion Care in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, produced by Andrea Grimes

Andrea Grimes, senior political reporter for Rewire: March 6, 2014: As the sun sets in McAllen on this clear Thursday evening, South Texans gather for a candlelight vigil to mourn the closure of an abortion facility that has been serving the Rio Grande Valley for forty years.

They are here to bear witness to the stories of the patients served by Whole Woman’s Health, which for the last ten years has provided safe, legal abortion in a building that has been a destination, and a haven, for Texans seeking abortion care since Roe V. Wade.

Woman, holding candle, reading from slip of paper: This is very similar to my actual story. I am 23 years old. I live in McAllen. I’m a single mother, with one child.

Man, holding candle, reading from slip of paper: I am from McAllen. I just turned 18 years old. I am unemployed and a full time college student. I cannot afford to have a child.

Woman, holding candle, reading from slip of paper: I am from McAllen, I’m 24 years old, and I’m confident in my decision, because I know I’m not financially ready for a baby.

Woman, holding candle, reading from slip of paper: I’m from Mercedes, I’m 33 years old, a mother of two, and I’m living with my parents.

Andrea Grimes: Legal abortion in the Rio Grande Valley ended in November 2013, when part of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, went into effect.

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health: For the women and families of Texas, justice has not been served. HB 2 is an injustice to those in Texas seeking the legal right to end an unwanted pregnancy safely.

For months, Whole Woman’s CEO Amy Hagstrom-Miller, tried to keep her clinic open for ultrasounds and pre-operative appointments while she attempted to secure admitting privileges for her doctor at local hospitals, which is just one of HB 2’s four medically unnecessary new requirements for abortion providers. But after a cold reception from hospitals, and no public support from the doctors who have been referring patients to Whole Woman’s for a decade, she knew couldn’t keep the doors open indefinitely in this deeply conservative community.

Veronica Higareda, student with Texas Freedom Network at UT-Pan American: And especially because of the stigma that’s around reproductive justice and women’s health, it’s really even hard to talk about it.

Paola Alaniz, student with Texas Freedom Network at UT-Pan American: People are scared. People where we socialize tend to to …

Veronica Higareda, student with Texas Freedom Network at UT-Pan American: Be very judgmental about it.

Paola Alaniz, student with Texas Freedom Network at UT-Pan American: Exactly. About sex, about abortions, about contraception. Everything that goes into that. They have a lot of stigma, and it’s very difficult to push away that stigma and realize that you’re confident enough to make the right decision.

Andrea Grimes: This week, Whole Woman’s Health also announced the simultaneous closure of another rural clinic, their Beaumont facility in Southeast Texas – staff there joined their counterparts in the Valley via a livestream for the candlelight vigil. Both clinic closures illustrate what has been so enraging, and so heartbreaking, for reproductive justice advocates here: the most marginalized Texans, the Texans with the fewest resources, are the ones whose health, and lives, are most threatened by family planning budget cuts and medically unnecessary abortion regulations that push abortion into back alleys and across the border.

Paula Saldaña, community health educator: Even way before all this, new policies and the HB 2 and the 2011 family planning cuts, health care–reproductive health care–was not easily accessible for women. Especially in low-income, immigrant women. So if it was affecting them, and now it’s going to affect everyone in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Andrea Grimes: The Whole Woman’s clinic in Beaumont performed about 3,000 abortions per year, while two clinics in the Valley, including Whole Woman’s McAllen, performed about 2,600 per year. Where those patients will go now is unclear – some will carry to term, some will find a way to drive or bus hundreds of miles to major city abortion clinics, and some will try to end their pregnancies on their own.

Sofia Peña, student at UT Pan-American: I think the statistic is, 60 percent of women who seek abortions have children already? And so, I was one of those 60 percent of women. And so the lovely young women that were here today, they helped me through everything that I needed for the procedure, and it was really amazing. And I feel really blessed to have gotten their love before this all happened. And it is truly devastating, that it’s happening now.

Andrea Grimes: Though conservative state legislators–both anti-choice democrats and republicans–seem to believe they can ignore their most vulnerable constituents, these Valley residents have plenty of fight left in them. There is talk of organizing car pools and bus rides from the Valley and Southeast Texas to the major cities that, come September 2014, will house the only six safe, legal abortion facilities in Texas that will be able to comply with the new law. We don’t know yet what will happen to the Texans who can’t make it to one of those six facilities, but tonight in the Rio Grande Valley, a promise has been made to remember them, always.

Group, carrying candles and chanting: “We won’t forget! We won’t forget!”

[Slide: For more coverage on Texas’ reproductive health care crisis, visit RHRealityCheck.org.]

Analysis Abortion

Data Shows Surge in Texans Traveling Out of State to Get an Abortion

Teddy Wilson

A Rewire analysis has found that while Texas data shows there has been a decline in the number of abortions in the state, data from other neighboring states suggests there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Texans traveling out of state to access abortion care since the passage of HB 2 in 2013.

Last week, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) was accused by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas of deliberately attempting to conceal abortion statistics from 2014, the first full year provisions of the state’s omnibus abortion law were in effect.

DSHS has yet to respond to a letter from the ACLU of Texas demanding that the agency make those statistics available to the public.

The news comes as the Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges provisions of the abortion law, HB 2, which lawyers of the abortion clinics argue place an undue burden on patients and providers in the state, impeding their ability to provide or access constitutionally protected health care.

DSHS officials finalized the statistics in March, according to the ACLU in a statement, but they have yet to release the full statistics to the public.

“The details are being reviewed for accuracy,” Carrie Williams, director of media relations for DSHS, told Rewire. “We did release the provisional total several months ago but can’t release the underlying details until they are final.”

Even without those details, a Rewire analysis has found that while DSHS data shows there has been a decline in the number of abortions in the state, data from other neighboring states suggests there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Texans traveling out of state to access abortion care since the passage of HB 2 in 2013.

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The number of abortions in Texas has been steadily decreasing since 2008, according to data from DSHS: Over the six-year period, the number has declined by nearly 22 percent. There were 81,591 abortions in 2008, 77,850 in 2009, 77,592 in 2010, 72,470 in 2011, 68,298 in 2012, and 63,849 in 2013.

Around that time, the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have abortions also steadily decreased, by nearly 57 percent from 2008 to 2012. There were 225 patients who had abortions out of state in 2008, 220 in 2009, 129 in 2010, 138 in 2011, and 97 in 2012, according to DSHS.

In 2013, the year Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed HB 2 into law, the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have an abortion increased to 681more than the previous four years combined. Prior to the implementation of HB 2, there were 41 facilities providing abortion services in the state, and 16 of those facilities had either closed or stopped providing abortion services by the end of 2013.

Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, told Rewire that the statistics for out-of-state abortions for Texans are concerning. “This is more evidence of what was already proven in court: Texas’ onerous regulations unnecessarily block access to safe, legal abortion in our state,” Trigilio said in an email to Rewire.

Specifically, a study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project showed the implementation of HB 2 has increased travel distances to clinics, out-of-pocket costs, and overnight stays.

At least 400 more patients traveled outside of Texas to have an abortion in 2014 than did in 2013, according to Rewire‘s analysis. Data collected by the state health departments of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana shows that at least 1,086 patients traveled to those states from Texas to obtain an abortion after portions of HB 2 took effect.

“Based on this [analysis from Rewire], it’s clear that this law doesn’t make women safer, it forces them to travel across the Texas border to get the care they need—and for women who can’t afford to leave the state, Texas law may prevent them from seeing a doctor at all,” Trigilio continued.

Texas Patients Seeking Out-of-State Abortions

In the wake of HB 2, more than half of the clinics that provide abortion services in Texas have been forced to close, leaving large swaths of the state without access to legal abortion care. The majority of the clinics that have remained open are located in major metropolitan areas: Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

As clinics that once served rural areas have closed, patients have been forced to drive hundreds of miles away from their homes to one of the state’s major cities or cross the border into neighboring states. 

Arkansas has seen a slight increase since the passage of HB 2 in the number of patients from Texas seeking abortion care.

Arkansas’ Health Statistics Branch of the state health department tracks the number of patients from out of state who have abortions. There were 21 from Texas in 2012, 25 in 2013, 41 in 2014, and 33 in 2015.

Kansas has also seen a slight increase in the number of Texas patients seeking abortion care, according to statistics published by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. There were two patients from Texas who traveled to Kansas to obtain an abortion during 2012, 13 in 2013,  23 in 2014, and 24 in 2015.

Oklahoma saw a noticeable increase in the number of patients from Texas seeking abortion care there after the passage of HB 2, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health annual abortion surveillance report.

There were 21 patients from Texas who had an abortion during 2012 in Oklahoma, 59 in 2013, 136 in 2014, and 131 in 2015.

Based on Rewire‘s analysis, it seems as if no other state has seen a larger increase in patients from Texas seeking abortion care than Louisiana.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) publishes data on abortions performed there collected by the State Center for Health Statistics (SCHS), but has typically not published data on the number of patients who live outside the state who have an abortion in Louisiana.

Preliminary SCHS figures for 2015 provided to Louisiana Right to Life, a state affiliate of the anti-choice organization National Right to Life Committee, included data on patients from out of state who obtained abortions in Louisiana.

There were 9,311 abortions performed in Louisiana during 2015, and patients from out of state accounted for 1,362 of all abortions performed in the state, according to DHH data published by Louisiana Right to Life.

The data did not include the states of residency for the patients from out of state, which the organization noted is “not available at this time.”

However, preliminary SCHS figures for 2014 provided to the Louisiana Right to Life did include details on the states of residency for patients who had an abortion in Louisiana. There were 10,211 abortions performed in Louisiana during 2014, and patients from out of state accounted for 1,432 of all abortions performed in the state.

Out of the 1,432 abortions had by residents from out of state, 886 were from Texas.

More and more pregnant people are traveling to New Mexico to access abortion care. About 20 percent of the roughly 4,500 abortions performed there in 2014 involved out-of-state patients, according to state health department data reported by the Albuquerque Journal.

Brittany Defeo, program manager with the aid group New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, previously told Rewire that the people she assists represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds. “They’re ages 18 to 40. It’s all walks of life,” Defeo said.

Defeo estimates that approximately one third of those seeking abortion services in New Mexico from out of state are from Texas. If estimates are correct, that would suggest that approximately 300 patients traveled from Texas to New Mexico to obtain abortion care in 2014. 

Natalie St. Clair, who assists patients seeking abortion care with nonprofit Fund Texas Choice, told the Texas Observer that she helps about ten clients per month travel to New Mexico to access abortion care. St. Clair explained to the Observer that clients often express shock over the barriers in Texas to accessing  abortion care.

“I hear a lot of ‘I had no idea that the laws were this way. I have to go out of state?’ There’s a lot of shame and guilt because people think it’s their fault, or they weren’t prepared enough,” St. Clair said. “I explain that [Texas laws] are set up this way on purpose … [They’re] making abortion inaccessible on purpose.”

Trigilio told Rewire that this data shows that HB 2 was never about protecting patients’s health and safety as proponents have claimed. “When a woman makes the deeply personal decision to have an abortion, she needs access to safe medical care and respect for the decision she has made. HB 2 impedes that,” the ACLU of Texas staff attorney said.

News Politics

Donald Trump: Abortion Patients Should Face ‘Some Form of Punishment’ if Abortion Is Outlawed

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s commitment to punishing those who receive abortion care comes amid controversy over the GOP candidate's treatment of women.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump asserted during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that there must be “some form of punishment” for those who obtain abortion care, should the procedure be banned in the United States.

“Should the woman be punished for having an abortion?” Chris Matthews asked Trump during the network’s pre-taped Wednesday town hall event. “This is not something you can dodge. If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, then you have to deal with it under the law.”

“Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and conservative Republicans, would say, ‘Yes, it should be punished,’” Trump replied. “I would say that it’s a very serious problem and it’s a problem that we have to decide on.”

“But you’re for banning [abortion],” Matthews said in a heated back and forth. “How do you ban abortion? How do you actually do it?”

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“Well, you go back to a position like they had where people will perhaps go to illegal places, but you have to ban it,” Trump said. The GOP presidential candidate went on, referring to unsafe procedures many who needed abortions have been forced to have when abortion care was inaccessible.

“Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no?” Matthews asked again.

“There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump responded, refusing to say what that punishment would be. 

Trump, in a statement released Wednesday, claimed that though his “position has not changed” on the matter, doctors providing abortion care “would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”

Presidential candidates roundly condemned the Republican frontrunner’s position after a clip of Trump’s comments was released ahead of the town hall.

Chad Sweet, a campaign spokesperson for Sen. Ted. Cruz (R-TX), said on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper that Cruz “focuses on punishing those who perform abortions, not women who get them.”

“Look, you know—I think probably Donald Trump will figure out a way to say that he didn’t say it or he was misquoted or whatever, but I don’t think so,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said of Trump’s comments, according to the New York Times. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate response and it’s a difficult enough situation then to try to punish somebody.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called Trump’s remarks “horrific and telling” and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted that the comments were “shameful.”

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, blasted Trump’s remarks in a statement. “Donald Trump hit a new low today in not only towing the anti-choice line that abortion should be outlawed but in proposing that women who seek abortion care should be punished,” Hogue said. “Not only is this an unhinged position far from where the American people are, but it is sure to endanger women were he to become president.”

“Everywhere abortion is illegal, the number of abortions don’t go down,” Hogue continued. “But the number of injuries and deaths go up. It’s appalling that in a week where Trump has blamed the victim of violence at the hands of his campaign manager, he would offer to be the leader to inflict more violence on women whether through forcing us back into the back alley or punishing us for making our own health-care decisions.”  

Trump’s commitment to punishing those who receive abortion care comes amid controversy over the GOP candidate’s treatment of women.

Though he claims to have “great respect for women,” many criticize Trump’s “sexist” rhetoric, which includes having called Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” as well as a litany of other comments based on women’s appearances. The presidential candidate came under fire for using “victim blaming” to defend his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, after battery charges were brought against him for allegedly grabbing and bruising reporter Michelle Fields.

Trump has spoken at length during the election about being anti-choice and his intention to defund Planned Parenthood, despite his admission that the health-care organization does “very good work.” His past support for abortion rights has led someincluding Cruz, to question his position on the matter.

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