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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[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.]