Access delayed is access denied

Photo by Ben Philpott

For more than 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of serving the women of Texas as an abortion provider, including four years with Whole Woman’s Health. During that time, I’ve held women’s hands, prayed with them and listened to their stories. More than anything, these experiences have strengthened my belief that every woman deserves the compassion, respect and dignity of being able to safely and legally end a pregnancy if she needs to. Alongside my colleagues, I have worked to honor this promise to the women and families of Texas.

Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the lengths to which some Texas politicians will go to make a necessary, legal, and constitutionally protected medical procedure nearly impossible to access in our state, with the greatest harms falling on young people, immigrant women, low-income families and those living in rural areas. In 2013, this included passing a slew of extreme restrictions targeting abortion providers and the women who rely on our services. A recent study from researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) at the University of Texas confirms what we have seen in our clinics: This law, House Bill 2, is having real and devastating effects across the state, forcing women to wait as long as 20 days for an appointment.

To understand why women are being forced to wait for abortion services, it’s important to review the full impact of HB 2. Prior to 2013, Whole Woman’s Health proudly served five Texas communities: McAllen, Beaumont, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin. By passing HB 2, lawmakers forced us to permanently close our clinics in Beaumont and Austin.  Both McAllen and Fort Worth have been forced to close at various points over the last two years, but I’m proud to say they are currently open. Providers across Texas have had similar experiences, and too few of us remain to meet the needs of 5.4 million women of reproductive age across a state spanning hundreds of miles.

When a clinic closes, the community it serves doesn’t stop needing care. Instead, women are forced to travel long distances, stay in faraway cities and wait as the remaining clinics do their best to meet the demand. To complicate matters, abortion later in pregnancy is more costly, placing low-income women in a particularly tough situation. Just when a woman has raised the funds to pay for her abortion, she may be forced to wait for an appointment that adds even more to the cost.

It breaks my heart to know that women are not able to get the care they need, when they need it — and with the full measure of respect and dignity each of us deserves. Instead, Texas women are forced to go to multiple and unnecessary visits to clinics that are now farther away, which means taking more days off of work, losing income, finding childcare, and arranging and paying for transportation that requires they travel hundreds of miles.

Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, as we’ve petitioned them to, more clinics will close, more women will be forced to wait and the legal right to abortion will, in Texas, become a luxury for a privileged few. Moreover, anti-choice lawmakers in other states will feel free to do what they have wanted all along: close more clinics and cut more women off from the care they need.

We no longer have to guess how HB 2 might harm the women of Texas. The data is clearer than ever. This politically motivated attack on abortion access has forced clinics to close and is currently forcing Texas women to navigate nightmarish barriers and delay needed services. For some, delays will mean budget-busting medical bills. For others, it will mean an abortion later than a woman would prefer. For at least some women, it may mean losing access altogether. This is unacceptable.

Access delayed is access denied. And we will not stand by as Texas women are denied their fundamental right to safe, timely reproductive healthcare. Texas women, and all women, deserve better.

Marva Sadler

Director of Clinical Services at Whole Woman’s Health