Texas Women Head to New Mexico for Abortion Services

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt. The case hinges on whether or not Texas law is putting undue burdens on patients by forcing abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and by making abortion clinics meet the higher standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

The law has meant that some Texas women are choosing to leave the state for abortions.

Last year, in Dallas, an international student from Honduras had a problem. We’ll call her “Sharon” because she wasn’t comfortable using her real name to tell her story publicly.

Sharon found out she was pregnant about four months along and was worried. Coming from Honduras, where abortion is illegal, she wasn’t sure if she could even have a procedure in the U.S. She did some research and went to a Christian health center where they confirmed her pregnancy. They prayed for her and asked her to not abort, but she had already decided that having a baby was not the right choice for her.

Texas House Bill 2 was passed in 2013. It changed the rules for women seeking legal abortion. Supporters of the bill say it made abortion safer, opponents say it reduces women’s access to abortions. After its passage, the number of abortion providers in the state shrunk from 36 to less than 20, forcing some women to leave the state for abortions.

Gina Lawrence, board member of West Fund.

Gina Lawrence, board member of West Fund.

Gina Lawrence is a board member at West Fund, an organization that pays for abortions for people who need them. She works out of her home on the outskirts of El Paso, about twenty miles from the Texas-New Mexico state line.

Here’s a snapshot of West Fund’s typical clients: women of color, women who already have children and women who are unemployed. Back in Dallas, Sharon is one of those women. Deciding whether or not to cross state lines is a question of legality, time and money.

In Texas, having an abortion can be a lengthy process – whether you opt for a surgical abortion, or choose to take the abortion pill. You can’t have a legal abortion after 20 weeks, or 5 months. In New Mexico, there are fewer restrictions, so Sharon called the Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque, and was referred to their Dallas facility for an ultrasound. Southwestern Women’s Options is one of the few providers in the country for late term abortions.

By the time Sharon got the ultrasound, she was 31 weeks along. The abortion would cost $20,000 and she needed travel to Albuquerque by the following Tuesday to have the procedure done. She couldn’t afford that on her own, but organizations like West Fund helped her raise most of the money.

Although they take place all the time, Lawrence says that there is a stigma attached to the word “abortion.” Sharon believes her friends and family would be critical of the decision she made, so she’s chosen to not tell them about her abortion.

The key question in the case pending before the Supreme Court is whether or not the law improves the health and safety of women. Proponents of the law point to higher safety standards, while critics point to fewer abortion providers. Texas Governor Greg Abbott defended the law when he was the state’s attorney general. He feels confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the law.

Opponents, like Lawrence, remain skeptical.

“We’ve closed clinics, cut funding to Planned Parenthood, we’re not giving people the opportunity to have a safe and legal abortion,” she says. “But they’re still trying to find ways, and I don’t think that’s ever gonna stop.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt in late June. If the court upholds the Texas law, many clinics will have to close their doors. This will leave the second largest state with ten or fewer abortion providers because clinics will be unable to meet expensive ambulatory surgical requirements. Hilltop Women’s Reproductive clinic in El Paso, the closest Texas clinic for women in the Big Bend, is one of them.

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