Written by by Alyssa Topolick, CNN by Allan Smith, CNN
In Texas, where more than half of abortions are performed, abortion providers are bracing for a barrage of new restrictions that could put dozens of women’s health centers out of business.
The new restrictions are rolling out after a US Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a Texas state law known as HB2. The justices ordered the state to return to the lower court its total of 5.6 million dollars in funds that had been held for legal fees. Texas appealed to the high court, arguing that because the state was in federal court at the time, any money it holds rightfully belongs to the federal government.
‘A huge chilling effect’
The new laws have already caused an “absolute nightmare” for abortion providers, according to Julia Talley, legal director of the Center for Reproductive Rights in Texas. They are widely expected to pass and — if enacted — will create what Talley called “a huge chilling effect” on women seeking abortion services.
“(The new law) will have such a negative impact on Texas women that it will have a chilling effect on women trying to get an abortion in Texas,” Talley said.
The new law will require Texas clinics to perform at least 75% of their abortions in ambulatory surgical centers, which have advanced medical technology and follow specific standards.
These centers are comparable to an ambulatory care facility, according to Rebecca Slaughter, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes West, which represents nearly 300 Planned Parenthood affiliates. Women who need to get abortions in rural areas or don’t have accessible transportation can end up in urban emergency rooms for the procedure, she said.
Other provisions in the law include transparency requirements and a requirement that a certain percentage of abortion procedures be performed on patients who are 16 or older.
‘We’d have to shut down our clinics’
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the restrictions, arguing the measures will “impair the quality of care” for women and “jeopardize access to abortion in Texas.”
The state says the provisions were intended to protect the health and safety of women. “We don’t need to legislate from the front of the womb,” Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, which lobbies for socially conservative causes, told CNN in June.
Abortion is legal in Texas so long as the procedure does not place “undue burden” on a woman, according to state law. That means a procedure would have to be medically unnecessary or occur in the third trimester of pregnancy.
While the number of abortions in Texas has declined steadily in recent years, the 2016 rate was 34.4 per 1,000 women of reproductive age, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that advocates for abortion rights. That’s a sharp decline from 36.6 per 1,000 in 2014.
The number of Texas abortion providers has also declined significantly over the years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were 791 clinics in 2004, but as of December 31, 2017, there were only 53 remaining providers.
In an article last week, the national abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America compared Texas to North Dakota, which restricted abortion through a state law passed in 2012.
Because abortions are medically necessary, only a few abortion clinics were allowed to remain open in the state. A medical emergency would have forced women to travel to other parts of the state.
“The result of these two states is fewer women having access to abortion care. This takes effect as early as 2018 — and we estimate that many clinics will not be able to meet the law’s requirements,” the organization wrote.
One of those clinics is in Harlingen, Texas, where NARAL Pro-Choice America says the proximity of the nearest provider “has cut the journey between Harlingen and Dallas by about a week.”
The fact that the court has so quickly approved the laws again as preliminary in Texas demonstrates how quickly it is moving, Talley said.
“There’s already a pretty good argument that the health and safety standards in this bill are harmful to women,” she said. “And there’s a strong chance that clinics will start closing.”