Louisiana clinic struggles to absorb wave created by new Texas abortion law
The day before a federal judge blocked the application of Texas’ restrictive new abortion law, the parking lot at the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La., Was filled with Texas license plates. Women held the door open as the rope spilled onto the sidewalk and into the grass.
“I drove 6 hours and 58 minutes,” said Mr. de Corpus Christi, who declined to give his full name for confidentiality reasons. “I arrived at 8:55 am this morning. So I didn’t eat, we can’t bring anything to drink. My boyfriend is sleeping in the car.
M. is 20 years old and a university student. She says she doubled up at her duty job all weekend so she could afford the trip.
“Whenever we have discovered [about the pregnancy] … I was five weeks and five days old, ”she said. “So I was like, OK I can, I’m under six weeks old and all. But he had a heartbeat. Under Texas Senate Bill 8, no clinic in the state could perform an abortion at this stage of the pregnancy.
So she and her boyfriend told her family they were on a “little trip” and drove through the night for her first visit to Hope Medical. She says her parents wouldn’t support her decision, but she knows it’s the right one for her.
“I feel like now I feel like I’m so unstable mentally, financially,” said Mr .. “It was really, really a tough decision. I just feel like it would have been a really big life changing thing that I don’t think I can go through now. ”
Louisiana law also imposes strict abortion requirements
For Texas women like M., Louisiana has become an unlikely backup plan for abortion services. And no one is more surprised than Kathaleen Pittman, administrator of the Hope Medical clinic. Between answering a phone that barely stopped ringing all morning, Pittman said fighting for reproductive rights in Louisiana is a constant struggle.
“It’s a little ironic, really,” she said. “Because apart from SB 8, our regulations are so horrible. “
Currently, Louisiana law allows surgical abortion up to 20 weeks (5 months) of pregnancy. The state also requires mandatory ultrasounds, state-led counseling that can discourage an abortion, and a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure can be performed – a procedure that requires two separate appointments.
“We’re doing a lot of reshuffling and trying to rearrange,” she says. “We have increased our hours on consultation days to try to accommodate as much as possible. “
The same week SB 8 was enacted, Hurricane Ida hit the south coast of Louisiana. Clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge were closed for several weeks, causing increased demand for Pittman and his staff. And they’re still struggling to absorb the surge, especially as clinics in Texas are finding out what they can do.
“Texas law provides that people can retroactively sue abortion providers, even if the law is temporarily suspended, as is currently the case,” said Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, an organization for nonprofit campaigning for access to abortion. “So I think it may make it difficult for some clinics and providers to feel confident to start providing care for people who have pregnancies beyond the sixth week.”
SB 8 allows individuals to sue abortion providers or anyone else involved in illegal abortions in Texas. Penalties for violations start at $ 10,000. And this provision has made this law more difficult to challenge because it is more difficult to know who to target with a preventive legal action – because anybody can continue.
For now, this federal decision essentially asks state officials to have nothing to do with the enforcement of SB 8. The state of Texas has said it will appeal.
Meanwhile, calls to several clinics in Texas had long wait times and a wait message stating that they were still complying with the SB 8 standard.
“Our facility will not be able to provide abortions to patients who have pregnancies with detectable embryonic or fetal heart activity, which typically begins 6 weeks after the person’s last menstrual period,” the Southwestern Women’s automated message states. Surgery Center in Dallas.
Traveling far for an abortion increases the financial burden
Sherie, a nurse from Hope Medical who also doesn’t share her full name for privacy and legal reasons, says she sees it all as an “unnecessary difficulty” for so many families, especially if they have to travel long. distances.
“I don’t know how they do this,” Sherie said. “Because the payment itself is a large amount of money. It’s people’s rent, paying for their car, maybe their groceries for the month, having to take time off from work, commuting, spending. “
And the stigma surrounding abortion can be both emotional and financial. Sherie says a lot of fathers can’t or don’t want to contribute to the cost. Like M., families may not be supportive or just totally in the dark. So, without the ability to ask relatives for help, many people take out expensive loans or sell personal effects.
Even then, Louisiana’s strict abortion laws mean the clinic can’t help everyone. An available appointment may be too late for the 20 week mark. And in a state that consistently faces some of the highest rates of poverty and maternal mortality in the country, the prospect of continuing a pregnancy is more than just an inconvenience.
Sherie, the nurse, was herself a patient at this clinic 30 years ago. She said she couldn’t imagine what she would have done if Hope Medical hadn’t been able to help her then. She therefore feels the pain of patients when she has to tell them that they cannot have the procedure.
“To see the look on their faces – it’s hard,” Sherie said. “Sometimes you just want to cry with them.”
Hope clinicians said one of the most pressing concerns when talking to a desperate patient is making sure they don’t resort to anything dangerous. Pittman says she is always worried that women could injure themselves or try unsafe methods of self-induced abortion.
But the most important result of these legal obstacles and restrictions, she said, is that many children will be born to parents who cannot afford or are not ready to raise them.
“My biggest concern is the extreme poverty that we will see,” she said. “If people cannot access care in one way or another, they will have larger families to care for. “
As M. drove to the clinic for her appointment, she said she knew her family would have questions when she and her boyfriend returned home in a few days. “Again, it’s like I’m sort of living my own life already,” she said, more for herself than for anyone else.
This choice is exactly what Pittman said she was working hard to protect. And even with SB 8’s legal stay, she said there was still a dark cloud hanging over her work.
As her phone continued to ring with hopeful patients in Texas and her hurricane-ravaged home state, she turned and read aloud a poster hanging on her office wall. An artist did it for her a few years ago, citing Pittman herself:
“The Louisiana coastline isn’t eroding as quickly as a woman’s right to choose her own way out.”