comments_image Comments

Texas Abortion Ban Forcing Sick Women Out of State

It is too soon to measure how many women will travel out of Texas to get a safe, legal abortion but abortion-rights advocates expect the number to rise.


Florence, a 24-year-old Houston woman, suffers from a life-threatening genetic disease. She has been in and out of hospitals her entire life and has a pile of medical bills she can’t pay. Her partner left after she recently became pregnant, saying he couldn’t handle her constant illness.

Then Florence, who did not want to be identified by her real name, learned at her second-trimester ultrasound that her fetus, which had inherited her disease, would never be healthy either. She decided her only option was to terminate the pregnancy before her child could suffer as she does.

“It broke me into pieces,” she told Al Jazeera.

But then Florence had another problem.

By the time she made her decision to have an abortion, there were no clinics in Texas that could help her. On Oct. 29, a new law went into effect  outlawing abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy. In the wake of the ruling, many abortion clinics in Texas started canceling appointments — even turning away one woman at the door. Suddenly Florence had no choice but to travel out of state for the procedure she desperately wanted.

So she caught an overnight bus to Albuquerque, N.M.

She didn’t tell her friends or family where she was going or why because she was afraid they would judge her. She had never been to Albuquerque and didn’t know anybody there.

“I was told there would be a shuttle to the clinic,” she said. “It’s a dicey situation, so I want to believe it’s true.”

It was.

A volunteer from a reproductive-rights organization in New Mexico picked her up from the bus station and drove her to the clinic. The clinic offered her a steep discount on the $3,500 cost of the abortion, and staff arranged for a local family to host Florence for the duration of her procedure.

Such generosity is not unusual. Across the U.S. there are grass-roots organizations set up to help low-income women like Florence have access to abortions. In most states, Medicaid won’t pay for an abortion unless the woman’s life is at risk. More than 86 aid groups known as  abortion fundsexist across the U.S. to provide small grants to women struggling to pay for abortions. Many clinics offer discounts too.

But as a recent wave of anti-abortion legislation has swept the nation and forced abortion clinics to close, paying for an abortion isn’t the only problem. Physical access is a real and growing barrier. The Huffington Post reported this summer that more than 50 abortion clinics have closed in the last three years. In Texas last week, another 15 clinics  shut their doors overnight after a law went into effect requiring doctors to have local hospital admitting privileges — a requirement that is bureaucratically difficult for many abortion physicians to meet.

Crossing state lines

It is too soon to measure how many women will travel out of Texas to get a safe, legal abortion as a result, but abortion-rights advocates expect the number to rise.

Vicki Cowart, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which runs a Planned Parenthood surgical clinic in Albuquerque, said usually about 5 percent of patients at the the clinic come from Texas. In October that number leaped to 14 percent.

“When there’s a lot of news about abortion being unavailable,” she said, “women often go ahead and make other plans.”

Yet getting to these far-flung destinations is no trivial task for women dealing with financial hardship. As clinics close in anti-abortion states such as Texas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wyoming, displaced women are forced to travel farther and farther in search of safe, legal abortions. Transportation, accommodation and child-care costs — more than half of women seeking abortions are already mothers — are big logistical barriers. Some experts fear these barriers are becoming so high that only the affluent can overcome them on their own, leaving women like Florence reliant on activists and volunteers.

See more stories tagged with: