- Abortion providers told Insider how women and girls had to travel overnight to access abortion care.
- Patients have traveled from Houston to Aurora, Colorado, a 2,000-mile (3,219km) round trip.
- Cheap “postal” abortions are becoming a readily available option to terminate a pregnancy in the US.
Hundreds of protesters gathered on a bitterly cold December 1 morning in front of the Supreme Court gripping protest signs that read, “abortion is healthcare,” “keep your ideology off my biology,” and “bans off our bodies,” to highlight the most important abortion case in a generation facing US women.
Inside, a landmark hearing has begun. The oral arguments in the Mississippi state government fight to make access to abortion illegal. If successful, this case would overturn Roe v Wade.
A month earlier, the Supreme Court heard the Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson case — an attempt to overturn Texas’ near ban on abortions. Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the law could be a “model of suppression” of constitutional rights, with copycat laws arising in other states.
It adds to a nationwide pattern, with 106 laws being passed to block abortions across states in the past year alone, alongside an increase in an “extreme acceleration” in prosecuting pregnancy, Insider’s Ashley Collman reported.
The Texas abortion bill was enacted on September 1. It was formerly known as SB 8 and is colloquially called the Heartbeat Act, although there is no cardiac activity in a fetus at six weeks, the latest time at which a person can receive an abortion in Texas. It’s the template of what could happen if more states stop access to reproductive healthcare.
A provision of the act makes it possible to sue anyone who provides support for unlawful abortions. That includes medical staff, lawyers, and even Uber drivers who drive women to abortion clinics. The act incentivizes private enforcement and “bounty hunters” by triggering $US10,000 ($AU13,996) plus costs to the plaintiff if a defendant is proved liable.
After abortions were severely restricted in Texas, doctors feared for their jobs
“This law is not stopping abortion, at least for the most part,” said Rachel Lachenauer, the director of patient experience at the National Abortion Federation, a helpline offering support for abortion care across the US.
“For many patients, what it has done has just created unbelievable hardship. And I think that’s the intent of the law. The law essentially says, ‘If you’re going to even dare to try to access abortion care, wow, we are going to make it just as destructive for you as possible,'” she said.
She added that between September 1 and October 31, the National Abortion Federation had received over 3,000 calls from Texans who needed abortion support.
“They want to be able to go down the road to their local provider who has been a part of their community for, in some cases, decades. But now they’re having to go out of state and incur this incredible financial, emotional, logistical hardship to do so,” Lachenauer continued.
Lachenauer said SB 8 was also stopping doctors from treating pregnant people who could one day want an abortion but were seeing them for separate issues.
She told Insider of the experiences of many pregnant people who called the National Abortion Federation to complain that their doctors were terrified to treat them at all if they were considering an abortion. The doctors feared being accused of aiding and abetting an abortion and being liable to a lawsuit.
—Rep. Nadler (@RepJerryNadler) November 4, 2021
Abortion clinics in bordering states are seeing a 600% increase in patients as people travel up to 2000 miles for abortions
Oklahoma’s Dr. Joshua Yap, an abortion provider, gave testimony to the Supreme Court in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson case. In the 12 days following the introduction of SB 8, he saw a 646% increase in Texan patients crossing the border to receive an abortion in his Planned Parenthood clinic in Tulsa.
Yap said that before the introduction of the bill, it wasn’t uncommon for him to see Texan patients because it made logistical sense. But he told the Supreme Court that he was now seeing people who had travelled for hours to get to his clinic in Tulsa. One woman drove across Texas at midnight to make it to her morning termination appointment, only to immediately turn back and drive home.
In one case, which Yap called “one of the most heart-wrenching cases” he’d seen, a minor who had been raped by a family member had to travel eight hours one way to get an abortion.
She was more than six weeks pregnant, over Texas’ legal limit for terminating a pregnancy, so she wasn’t able to access the procedure in her home state. Incest is not covered by the provisions of the Heartbeat Act.
Yap added that as his clinic became full, patients were referred to abortion facilities in Arkansas and Kansas.
—Planned Parenthood (@PPFA) November 1, 2021
Vicki Cowart, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, also gave evidence to the Supreme Court. She said that from September 1 to September 11, Texas patients made up 29% of abortion patients the organization saw at its New Mexico health centers.
Cowart said patients had traveled “incredibly long distances” to reach the health centers. For example, patients had traveled from Houston to Aurora, Colorado, a 2,000-mile (3,219km) round trip. One patient was even sent to Las Vegas for her abortion, she said.
“On average, the Texas patients we have seen since S.B. 8 went into effect have travelled approximately 650 miles (one way) to access abortion out of state,” Cowart said.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, told Insider that “abortion restrictions do nothing to prevent unintended pregnancy — that rate is actually highest in countries with the most severe restrictions.”
Elisa Wells, a cofounder and codirector of Plan C, an informational source about accessing abortion pills online, said traffic to the site had increased fourfold since the introduction of Texas’ bill on September 1.
“Twenty-six percent of the traffic to our site is from Texas, with IP addresses of users both in major cities and in small towns throughout the state,” Wells said in an email.
Cheap “postal” abortions are fast becoming one of the more readily available options to terminate a pregnancy — with AP reporting that they now account for about 40% of US abortions — but the safety and legality of the procedure is questionable.
Some states ban telemedicine consultations and the delivery of drugs. That, mixed in with a range of differing — and changing — laws on abortion, can be a legal gray zone.
But for some women in Texas who are over six weeks pregnant, it’s sometimes the only choice to have an abortion.