Today is September 1st, Labor Day, and, ironically, the date that unless the court acts in Louisiana and Texas, a massive swatch of the south will no longer have moderately easy access to safe abortion care. September 1 is the date that TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) laws in both states will go into effect, shutting down all but a few clinics that will be allowed to operate after having both received admitting privileges to local hospitals and, in the case of Texas, having clinics built in the standards of an ambulatory surgical center.
In Texas, that could mean just one clinic for every 1 million people who are capable of bearing children.
“Eight: the number of legal abortion providers that, barring a federal court’s intervention, will remain in Texas as of Monday, September 1, when the final provision of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, goes into effect,” reports Andrea Grimes at RH RealityCheck. “That’s one legal abortion provider for every one million Texans who could become pregnant, according to an estimate from the University of Texas’ Texas Policy Evaluation Project.”
Louisiana will have close to the same number as well in their state, with just two clinics left to serve roughly 2 million women and teen girls in their own state, too.
As problematic as the number of people per clinic is the actual effect that clinic closures would have on the landscape of accessing care. With the remaining Texas clinics being located primarily on the east end of the state, as well as to the north and central areas of the state, and Louisiana’s likely remaining clinics being in the Shreveport area near to the Texas boarder, the number of pregnant people who may want to end a pregnancy but can’t access an abortion due to travel issues is likely to skyrocket. Residents of Baton Rouge and New Orleans will no longer have any clinics in their cities, forcing them not just to leave the state and head to the sole clinic in Mississippi but, potentially, two states away to Mobile, Alabama. Once in Alabama, they would face a 48 hour waiting period before they could even have the procedure.
Taken apart, the two requirements and the effect they will have on clinics should present a significant burden on the constitutional right to access an abortion, which is the same argument the courts used to strike down similar laws in Alabama and Mississippi. But with both Texas and its neighbor Louisiana putting their laws into effect on the same date, it’s impossible to miss the layer upon layer of difficulty it will make pregnant women wanting to terminate their pregnancies face.
The question is, do other courts agree? One Texas judge could block the final phase of HB 2 and keep the remaining dozen clinics open today. Even if he does, however, it may not last long. After all, the last time he blocked parts of HB 2, the Supreme Court allowed it to be implemented anyway and then the 5th circuit court ruled it constitutional, shutting down the first 20 clinics in the state.
Louisiana’s bill could be blocked as well, with the Center for Reproductive Rights and local health care providers filing a court challenge there, too. The providers have argued that they have not had enough time to get privileges, making it impossible for their clinics to stay open. That issue could provide the courts a way to keep the clinics open for now without having to weigh in on the actual merits of the law itself. In an attempt to appease everyone, the law may just stay unenforced until all doctors are officially turned down by their hospitals, which is looking more and more likely.
Regardless of what the courts decided to do or not do, to close clinics or leave them open, there is a crisis in the southern states, and it has already reached the tipping point. Clinics that remain open are seeing floods of patients, waiting periods are forcing those patients to take longer to access care, and mounting travel costs are making abortion impossible to obtain.
What that means, of course, is a return to self-abortion, something we only hear about when it goes wrong, either because a pregnancy continued or a pregnant person was hurt. “Self-induced abortion is kind of invisible,” Rachel Jones, a senior fellow at the Guttmacher Institute, told reporter Amelia Thomson-Deveaux. “It’s by definition unobservable. If a woman is successful, we don’t know about it, so we can’t count it.”
Today, on September 1st, regardless of how many clinics are still open, abortion won’t be going anywhere. It will still be happening. We just may not be hearing about it. That is, if we — and the pregnant people attempting it – are lucky.
Photo credit: Thinkstock