On Thursday, the final measures of a set of restrictions approved by Texas Legislature last year went into effect: The poorest part of the state saw its last two abortion clinics shut their doors, leveling an even greater burden on mothers looking to get an abortion in the state.
The move has come alongside a wave of dwindling abortion clinics in traditionally republican states that, by some measures, seek to make legal abortions more difficult to receive. Despite metropolitan areas containing the densest collection of people, and therefore being most likely to offer services, rural areas comprise an enormous portion of the U.S. population. And for many of these young, poor, or otherwise unfit mothers, the cost of traveling is simply too great to bear.
Come September, the number of available abortion clinics in Texas will fall to six. In 2011, that number was 44. Currently, it stands at 24. Around the country, many states already have even fewer. While California and New York, generally regarded as progressive states, boast clinics in the hundreds, North and South Dakota, meanwhile, each only have one and two, respectively. Wyoming has two. Oklahoma has a handful. And the dozens of other states that have 10 or more tend to cluster them around the most urban areas.
A 2008 analysis showed that 13 percent of all U.S. counties had an abortion clinic, or some other provider. A study three years before that showed that while 31 percent of metropolitan counties had a provider, only 3 percent of counties in non-metropolitan areas did. It may make sense to offer services to many people at once, but that still leaves an equal amount much farther away: With the recent closing of the Texas clinic, residents in the Rio Grande Valley will have to travel 240 miles to San Antonio or 310 miles to Austin to get their abortion. They also must find a place to stay overnight, as Texas state law requires an ultrasound be performed beforehand, a procedure that carries a 24-hour lead time for results.
“It’s heartbreaking for us,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, the chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, the operators of the two recently-closed clinics, told The New York Times. “It’s been a very difficult decision. I tried everything I can. I just can’t keep the doors open.”
Abortion opponents cite the “deplorable conditions” and poor adherence to safety regulations of the Texas facilities, which serviced more than 3,000 patients annually. But Miller pointed to the parts of the law requiring beefed-up service requirements, which mandate all clinics must meet surgical-center standards of care to stay in business, as what really did the clinics in.
More hopefully, a similar law in North Dakota passed in February that allowed doctors to gain hospital admission privileges at the state’s only abortion clinic, in Fargo. Previously, the law required all doctors to be capable of admitting patients into hospitals in order to perform an abortion. However, doctors contended that the procedure is sufficiently safe and quick that hospitals are rarely necessary. Opponents of the law argued the policy effectively banned abortions in the state.
Meanwhile, the fight in Texas continues to trudge on. Closing the clinics keeps mothers safe, anti-abortion supporters argue. But what’s best for those mothers, the other side contends, is considering the long-term implications of delivering a child without the resources to care for it. Opponents of the law say young and poor mothers have no choice but to carry the pregnancy to term, as the cost of nearly 600 miles of gas round-trip all but cripples a girl with limited options.
“These health centers provide lifesaving preventive care, cancer screenings and birth control to Texan women,” Senator Wendy Davis, made popular by her all-day filibuster last June, said in a statement. The politicians behind the law are essentially “forcing their personal political agenda and threatening the health of women across the Rio Grande Valley.”