Court Lets Some Clinics Reopen, but Getting an Abortion in Dallas Is Still Tough
Right now, as this story is being written, four clinics provide abortions in Dallas: Abortion Advantage, Planned Parenthood, Routh Street Women's Clinic and Southwest Women's Surgery Center. Two, Whole Woman's Health and Planned Parenthood, are open in Fort Worth. But read quickly, because it's possible some of those will be closed by the time you finish.
OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but not by much. The truth is that 40 years after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, the state of abortion rights in Texas is more in flux than ever. Despite the fact that three local clinics were able to reopen thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, even in a big city like Dallas women have to navigate a maze to get a safe, legal procedure.
You can blame the TRAP for that.
TRAP -- "targeted restrictions of abortion providers" -- is a term used to describe laws like Texas' HB2, which required, among other things, clinics providing abortions to meet standards set for ambulatory surgical centers. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that provision unconstitutional and stopped its enforcement. Texas appealed and the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided earlier this month to let Texas enforce the law until it made a final ruling on the case challenging the law.
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Thirteen abortion clinics, including three in Dallas, closed briefly until the U.S. Supreme Court last week ordered Texas to hold off enforcement until the 5th Circuit rules.
The clinics are open now, but pro-choice groups aren't expecting good news when the 5th Circuit finally rules on the case's merits. Earlier this year, the 5th Circuit allowed other contested provisions of the law to take full effect, which also caused clinic closures.
If you're confused, you can imagine how women in Dallas-Fort Worth feel.
TRAP laws are wildly effective in making it difficult for women to have abortions. According to Nan Little Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Dallas-based abortion fund Texas Equal Access, her hotline is typically slammed with calls from women who need assistance, but it received significantly fewer requests for help during the week that HB2 was being fully enforced.
Even with the Supreme Court's ruling, there is still confusion about whether or not abortion is even legal in Texas. "I don't think that the need for abortion care in Texas suddenly dried up overnight," Kirkpatrick says. "So that means that women who need abortions just don't think that they can get one." The TEA Fund works with all of the open clinics in Dallas to provide assistance for poor women seeking abortions, who usually don't even know the fund exists until an abortion clinic tells them that financial assistance may be available. Federal and state law prevents public funding for abortion in the vast majority of instances, meaning that TEA Fund is a sort of last resort for poor patients.
Dallas is in much better shape than other areas of the state. In the Rio Grande Valley, women are looking at up to a 300-mile drive to the nearest abortion clinic. Still, the TEA Fund is contending with a one- to two-week backlog for appointments at some of the city's clinics. Because abortion procedures get more expensive the farther into a pregnancy, two weeks can be the difference between paying $450 for an abortion and $600.
When the appointment arrives, the patient will need to be ready to pay the full balance for her procedure that day. In the early stages of pregnancy, from four to 11 weeks, an abortion costs around $450 in Dallas, according to figures calculated by the TEA Fund. To put that number into perspective, it is nearly half of the average apartment monthly rent in Dallas-Fort Worth. Most pregnancies are terminated before the 13-week mark, but if you wait those two extra weeks, the cost of an abortion goes up to around $800. For the mostly rare abortions after 13 weeks, the procedure is surgically more complicated, meaning that patients can look at paying up to $3,000 for the procedure.
At most abortion clinics, there are no discounts for the procedure even if you can prove need, especially when demand is this high. Clinics refer women to the TEA Fund, which can typically provide grants ranging from only $50 to $200 because of its limited budget. On the TEA Fund website, the organization encourages women who aren't able to pay to come up with other sources of funding, like pawning or selling possessions and asking relatives for a loan.
Assuming that the patient can come up with the cash, they'll then need to make sure they've made an appointment with an actual abortion clinic. As VICE reported earlier this year, White Rose Women's Center in Dallas, located strikingly close to the Routh Street abortion clinic, offers "abortion counseling and alternatives" wrapped up in a lot of confusing verbiage intended to make patients believe that they actually offer abortion procedures. Several more of these "clinics," also called crisis pregnancy centers, are among the top search results when you Google "abortion in Dallas."
To actually have the procedure, the patient will also have to take off at least two days from work. Texas law requires that a sonogram or ultrasound be performed at least 24 hours before an abortion. Choosing sedation during the procedure also means that you'll need to wrangle a friend or relative to drive you to and from the clinic. If a patient needs or would prefer a non-surgical, medication-induced abortion, she is looking at potentially four visits to a clinic. Texas law requires that each of the pills be taken at a clinic, and that process generally occurs over four days.
Of course, women who have resources can consider traveling out of state for an abortion if their options in Texas don't pan out, but that doesn't make the process any easier. New Mexico has significantly less stringent restrictions on abortions than Texas, but the nearest clinic there is 650 miles away from Dallas. Oklahoma's abortion laws are equally restrictive, and there are only three clinics in the entire state. Same goes for Louisiana, where the three lone abortion clinics scattered across the state are struggling to stay open. While not technically impossible to make the drive to another state for an abortion, it is still extremely costly.
At the end of this long, hard race, an abortion procedure doesn't feel much like a victory. In addition to the stigma that surrounds the procedure, your abortion provider is required by state law to provide you with outdated advice about the medical risks of abortion, along with information about adoption alternatives.
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