Abortion remains legal in the United States, but states such as Texas are erecting legal impediments before clinics that perform the procedure. In effect, 40 years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade established the right to first-trimester abortion, pro-life groups and lawmakers are negating its effects.
Last year, lawmakers in Texas forced through legislation that amounts to a frontal assault on the state’s abortion providers. More than 40 clinics around the state performed the procedure legally and safely when the law took effect a year ago. Today fewer than half of those clinics are still in business in a state where the population has more than doubled over four decades.
Many of the surviving clinics are expected to close this fall as the law’s second shoe falls — a requirement that forces the clinics to adopt standards normally required only for full-service hospitals. To remain in operation, the clinics would have to spend millions of dollars complying with regulations — buying new equipment, widening corridors, installing men’s locker rooms. Few can afford to absorb those costs.
According to pro-choice groups monitoring the situation, Texas may be left with just six clinics by the end of the year, none in sprawling rural areas such as East Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, where many poor women would be forced to seek out-of-state procedures or cross the border into Mexico.
The new requirements have nothing to do with improving women’s health or enhancing the safety of clinics, which are already quite safe. Nor do they apply to clinics that perform dental, periodontic, cosmetic or other outpatient surgical procedures. The regulations pertain only to abortion clinics, and their sole purpose is to burden the clinics with expenses that force them to shut their doors.
In Texas, as in other states, the incidence of abortion has fallen steadily in recent years for an array of reasons, including legislation that has forced out providers. Nonetheless, more than 70,000 women received abortions in Texas in 2011 — about 14 percent of those who became pregnant.
Given that level of demand and the plummeting numbers of clinics providing abortion services, the results are predictable. Thousands of women in Texas, especially those outside the largest cities, will be forced to travel hundreds of miles to obtain abortions. After traveling those distances, many will undergo additional hardships, given the state’s 24-hour waiting period following a mandatory ultrasound before they can undergo the procedure. In the absence of adequate numbers of legal and accessible abortion providers, many women will resort to unsafe and unsanitary options closer to home.
Very possibly, some women will die as a result; most of these will be poor.
Pro-choice groups have turned to the federal courts to mount a challenge to the Texas law. In the meantime, clinics will continue to close. Regardless of the outcome in the courts, few of them will reopen, given the state’s onerous red tape and licensing requirements. In huge swaths of the nation’s second most populous state, Roe v. Wade has been effectively undone by the legislature.
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