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Advocates: Texas Law Brought Surge in Self-Induced Abortions

Teddy Wilson

Advocates said during a media call Tuesday that they started seeing signs of women taking matters into their own hands almost immediately after Texas Republicans pushed through HB 2.

Reproductive rights advocates are shining a light on the disastrous effects that Texas’ omnibus abortion law has had on women and families in the state, including pushing some women as far as attempting to self-induce abortions.

The Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments on the anti-choice law known as HB 2, and the Court’s decision would affect similar laws passed in GOP-majority state legislatures nationwide.

Advocates, providers, and patients detailed personal stories of the people who have been affected by the law during a media call Tuesday. These personal stories were punctuated by the results of the first study to document women’s experiences seeking abortion care following clinic closures associated with the enforcement of HB 2. One Austin resident said she could not access abortion care because of HB 2’s outsized impact.

Since Republican legislators passed HB 2 and it went into effect, the state has seen the number of clinics that provide abortion services reduced from 25 to 19, and that number will drop to ten if the Supreme Court upholds the law. The majority of the clinics left are located in the heavily populated urban areas of the state, while those in rural areas of the state are hundreds of miles from the nearest abortion provider.

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Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, said during the call that the sweeping anti-choice law was “specifically designed to make obtaining an abortion more difficult if not impossible.”

Daniel Grossman, an investigator at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), said on the call that a study, published online in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception, shows that the sudden closure of clinics created significant obstacles for women seeking abortion care.

TxPEP interviewed 23 women from across the state who either had their abortion appointments canceled when clinics closed or who sought care at closed clinics shortly after HB 2 was enforced. Grossman said that majority of the women in the study were younger than 25 and Latina.

“Many of them talked about poverty and the challenges they faced,” Grossman said.

From the Rio Grande Valley to East Texas, the law has already had a disproportionate effect on women of color in low-income communities.

Over the years, people have questioned how many women in the state would attempt to self-induce an abortion since the GOP-sponsored law went into effect.

Between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women of reproductive age have attempted to end a pregnancy on their own without medical assistance, according to one study. Based on a comparison with earlier data, the findings of this study suggest that the incidence of self-induced abortion may be disproportionately higher in Texas than among women in the rest of the country.

Advocates said that they started seeing signs of women taking matters into their own hands almost immediately after Texas Republicans pushed through HB 2.

Tenesha Duncan, administrator at Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, an abortion clinic in Dallas, said that “within the first week of HB 2 going into effect,” the clinic saw patients who attempted to self-induce. A physician at the clinic found parsley in the vagina of a patient who had attempted to self-induce using what some believe to be a type of herbal remedy.

Ginny Braun, the former CEO and director of Routh Street, an abortion clinic forced to close after HB 2 went into effect, talked to patients calling her clinic who were desperate in the first few hours after the law took effect. The Routh Street clinic closed its doors permanently on June 13, 2015, as the law made it impossible to function as a clinic.

“Closing clinics will never end the need for abortion,” Braun said.

Before the Routh Street clinic closed, Braun said that staff had seen women who had purchased pills from flea markets to self-induce abortions, and that the women would take upwards of a dozen pills without knowing how far along in pregnancy they were. This law’s effects on women’s health could be “devastating,” Braun said.

Opponents of the law filed more than 40 amicus briefs with the Supreme Court detailing its devastating effects, and the effects similar policies have wrought on patient health and safety in the state.

Dr. Valerie Peterson, a single mother in her 30s residing in Austin, said that HB 2 had a direct impact on her when she needed to terminate a pregnancy. Doctors detected a possible fetal abnormality during the first 12 weeks of her pregnancy.

“It was agonizing and emotionally draining knowing that there was something wrong but not knowing what was wrong,” Peterson said.

When Peterson was 16 weeks into her pregnancy, the fetus was diagnosed with holoprosencephaly (HPE), a brain development disorder. She said that the severity of the disorder left her with two options: carry the doomed pregnancy to term or terminate the pregnancy.

Peterson’s doctor referred her to an abortion provider in Austin, but because of the demand she was unable to secure an appointment for three weeks. “Every day I had to remain pregnant was emotionally painful,” Peterson said.

Even after she was able to secure an earlier appointment with another provider, the procedure would take four days to complete due to Texas law. It was then that she made the decision to seek the care she needed at a provider in Florida, despite the additional cost.

“I was ultimately able to access abortion in a timely manner,” Peterson said. “However, HB 2 leaves many women without hope and without options.” She said that she hopes the Supreme Court overturns the law, which she called “downright cruel.”

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