- One reproductive care doctor in Texas is struggling to send her patients seeking an abortion away.
- Blair Cushing, who works in McAllen, Texas, told Insider it’s hard “shooing people away.”
- Among the patients she’s turned away since SB 8 passed in September were two 14-year-old girls who didn’t want to have a baby.
Since September, Dr. Blair Cushing has had to find ways to let down her patients and deny abortion care.
For a doctor like Cushing who focuses on reproductive care, that’s a big ask. She can’t legally perform an abortion after the implementation of a restrictive law that has doctors weighing the prospect of a lawsuit over the wishes of their patients.
The law is called SB 8, and it effectively prohibits anyone from obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. That’s a point at which most people do not yet know they are pregnant. People who violate the law can be sued in court, which would likely result in a minimum of $US10 ($AU13),o00 in statutory damages per abortion.
Abortion clinics in Texas have tried to block the law in court, arguing that it would prohibit care for “at least 85% of Texas abortion patients.” The US Supreme Court heard arguments about the law on Monday.
Some abortion providers in Texas have had to turn away patients seeking the procedure. Cushing’s clinic, operating under abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, is no different.
“The biggest thing that I think is weighing on us is just shooing people away who we could very easily treat, and just as safely treat as we could have two months ago,” Cushing told Insider.
She has to tell her patients that she cannot legally perform abortions after the six-week mark.
“My words to them are that, ‘I can no longer offer you an abortion in Texas. Nobody else can offer you an abortion in Texas. If you’re still interested in pursuing an abortion, that we can give you referrals to other clinics out of state.'”
But for many of her patients in McAllen, a city buried deep in southern Texas that’s located just about eight miles from the US-Mexico border, going out of state is not an option. It would mean crossing the vastness of Texas to get to a neighboring state, which isn’t viable for people who are undocumented or people who have responsibilities they can’t abandon like kids or a job.
“When you’re talking about going out of state, if you’re talking driving distance, this is literally 12 hours in any one direction to get to the nearest state border,” Cushing explained. “You’re also in a fairly remote community, so there’s no real direct flights to somewhere else. Very, very few, so, good luck.”
Those patients are among the many that Cushing has had to deny and turn away.
Recently, Cushing had to turn away teenagers. Two 14-year-old girls showed up at her McAllen clinic on the same day. Both were ineligible for an abortion, Cushing said. After she sent them away, she had a crushing conversation with her staff.
“Even the people who wrote this law that feel so strongly anti-abortion, how can you think that it’s fine to punish a 14-year-old by forcing her to continue a pregnancy?” Cushing said she told her staff.
Other times, Cushing said she encounters patients who are familiar with the law but have irregular periods that make it harder to determine whether they’ve passed the six-week mark and are still eligible for an abortion. They come in for an ultrasound just to check if they’re eligible, but often afterward get turned away.
Nearly one out of every four people in McAllen, Texas, lives in poverty, according to Census data.
“It’s really hard because I know the situation that people are in,” Cushing said.