Clinics report 800% increase in women leaving Texas since new restrictions took effect

Clinics report 800% increase in women leaving Texas since new restrictions took effect

Abortion providers on Thursday said the number of Texans heading out of state for abortions skyrocketed since the state banned abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually after six weeks of pregnancy.

Dr. Iman Alsaden, medical director of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said clinics in states neighboring Texas have seen an 800% increase in visits from Texas patients in the roughly six months since the new law took effect.

Kathaleen Pittman, clinic administrator at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, said 18% of her patients were from Texas before the state’s new law but that jumped to 60% by December.

“The amount of control that the state of Texas has over these women is horrific,” she said. “Never have I been so afraid of what is happening.”

The Texas law curtailing most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected went into effect Sept. 1. Although the ban faces legal challenges, the Supreme Court has not imposed a stay on Texas enforcing it while the litigation proceeds.

Abortion clinics in Texas have stopped performing abortions after six weeks of gestation. They are helping women with travel plans to get to out-of-state abortion providers.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, which is the lead plaintiff in the legal battle, said clinic sessions have turned into grief support and travel navigation sessions. 

“In many cases, there is nothing we can do for them,” she said. 

Under the new Texas law, an abortion provider can only perform an abortion past the limit if there is a medical emergency for the pregnant woman, which must be thoroughly documented in written records kept by the clinic.

Ultimately, it is up to the abortion provider to halt any abortion procedure if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

If a provider ignores the heartbeat and continues the procedure, the provider could be subject to a civil lawsuit brought by any individual — not the state — for violating the law.

Any provider who performs or anyone who assists a pregnant person in obtaining an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected also can be sued for violating the legislation by any citizen.

The legislation differs from other pro-life state laws in that it gives private citizens the right to sue abortion providers and anyone assisting in the unlawful procedure in civil court rather than leaving a criminal probe to state officials.

If an individual successfully sues an abortion provider or anyone else who assisted a person in obtaining an unlawful abortion, the court can reward $10,000 to the plaintiff who brought the case.

Because the law allows private citizens to enforce it, abortion providers have not had luck in the courts challenging it.

The Supreme Court declined to block enforcement after the providers sued Texas state officials, though the justices left open the question about whether medical licensing boards would be enforcing the law by suspending licenses of abortion providers who violate it and face lawsuits.

The Texas Supreme Court will decide what role those licensing boards play concerning the new law. On Thursday, the state’s highest court heard arguments in the dispute.

Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone told the Texas justices that licensing officials won’t enforce the law, dismissing the concerns brought by abortion providers.

“They want such an injunction, so they can have it crafted to all sorts of people,” he said.

Marc Hearron, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights that is representing the Texas abortion providers, said if the state’s highest court rules the licensing officials don’t enforce the law, that would effectively end their lawsuit.

“At this point, the best outcome we can get in this case would be a ruling blocking the state licensing officials,” he said, which would prevent doctors from losing their licenses.

He called the Supreme Court’s refusal to block the new law an “ominous sign” for the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that guaranteed abortion rights.

“There is no end in sight to this nightmare,” he said. “This is a preview of what will happen on a much larger scale if Roe falls.”