"There are very few women we can help": a doctor tells how Texas law affects abortion access

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02

12/2022

AbortionsSince Texas' anti-abortion law went into effect, health care providers say they work in fear and dissatisfaction. Their hands are tied due to the restrictions to provide the procedure and because they do not know if those who call the phone or seek care at their doors are really patients or people who just want to sue them. By: Patricia Clarembaux, Sep 26, 2021 – 01:21 PM EDTShareLoading Video...

HOUSTON, Texas- A pregnant woman arrived at an abortion clinic in Houston last week. She was convinced: this was not the time to father another baby. He already had seven children, and one of them was battling a terminal illness in a hospital. But they could not treat her at that medical center. There was already a fetal heartbeat, so no one in Texas could really help her have a safe abortion. The state law that went into effect on September 1, SB8, prohibited her — and any doctor — from making decisions. The only solution was to seek another state that would allow her to have the procedure done at that stage, which was impossible for her.

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, in charge of the Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, where that mother arrived, tells Univision News that they should have given the same response to more patients. he They had to deny the procedure to pregnant women, for example, after a rape or assault: "They are still processing the trauma and now they have to find another place that gives them the care they need," he regrets. Women living on the streets and with drug addiction problems also arrived who decided not to have a child in these conditions: "We couldn't help them either."

In a column published in Elle magazine last week, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Alexis McGill Johnson, adds the case of a woman with covid-19 who could not access an abortion because she was quarantined for her recovery of the virus closed the six-week window established by SB8.

Planned Parenthood—the largest provider of reproductive health services in the United States—estimates that between September 1 and 18, its network of clinics in the Gulf area (which includes Texas) received more of 100 women who could not have a safe abortion due to SB8. And the number is higher: the previous figure only counts those who came to a consultation thinking they qualified for the procedure, but found out at that moment that they already No.

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"Before the law, one of the best things our country had was work is that no matter how difficult it was, how many challenges were presented in the day, we would go home knowing that we had helped people," says the doctor, who has been providing abortions in Texas for six and a half years , and watching the fight of politicians against scientists, like him.

"That satisfaction has been taken away from us. There are very few women we can help now. They ask us for help and we have to say, 'You have to go to another state.' (...) At the end of the day, it is us, the doctors and nurses, who sit down with the people, who have names and stories, are women who are pregnant at a bad time and to whom we have to tell that we cannot give them an abortion (...) It's the worst part of all this: we come home and instead of having helped people we feel worried about what happened to them and what they will do."

Different studies have concluded that an abortion is a safe procedure when performed by specialized health providers and under appropriate conditions. They assure that, in many cases, the restrictions set by the governments do not stop them from seeking to perform the procedure. Instead, Amnesty International explains, women go to clandestine centers without sanitary conditions or trained personnel. The most affected end up being people with fewer resources, who cannot travel to other states or access private reproductive health services. "Criminalizing abortion does not stop its occurrence," concludes the organization.

A day before, a day after

On August 31, within hours of SB8 going into effect, Dr. Kumar treated 60 women, the most patients ever seen in one day in his years as a reproductive health provider. Normal is half.

On September 1, when the anti-abortion law began to be applied, the room emptied. Six patients came to his clinic, and among them only three were eligible for an abortion.

Kumar grew up in Texas and studied medicine there. When it was his turn to do his residency he decided to travel to New York, where he says there was a "more exhaustive" look at reproductive health, abortion access and sex education. In Texas, the opposite was true and the stigma, he recalls, was much greater. By then, politicians had pushed for more restrictions on abortion with laws like HB2, which required clinics to be equipped as ambulatory surgical centers to handle emergencies and required doctors to have medical privileges. hospital admissions with OB/GYN services within 30 miles. As a result, the state lost almost half of its providers and, although in 2016 the Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional, very few were able to reopen their doors.

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With that scenario, Kumar was hopeful that by returning to his state he would be able to train new generations and contribute to a change in the narrative on women's reproductive rights. “But what has happened since then is that our elected politicians and people in power have passed laws that have aggressively impacted abortion access,” she says. "I never thought things would get this bad. They just pass laws in their interests, but they are essentially hurting people and we know that's the case. I don't think they care."

Now, with SB8 there are not only restrictions on clinic workers but also fear. The law allows anyone to report someone who provides or recommends an abortion. It is such a broad spectrum that it can affect the doctor as well as the one who pays for the abortion; to the one who drives the car that takes the woman to the clinic and to the one who gives advice to opt for this procedure.

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"The lawsuits are scary and we worry," points out, but they will not stop him from doing his job according to what the law establishes. To protect all the staff, he says they have had meetings and discussions to define new policies that are in line with the law. They're also making sure everyone knows the heartbeat and understands what they're seeing on the screen when assessing a pregnant woman.

She says that they are afraid of any call or visitor who does not require attention but arrives looking for it: "We feel very vulnerable knowing that someone could file a lawsuit. It leaves us wondering if this person is really a patient, because the doors are open by this law for anyone to come in and sue us. We've never dealt with anything like this and we don't know what it would look like."

A Ripple Effect

After the Supreme Court turned its back on the doctors, nurses and organizations that asked it to block SB8, other states saw that decision as an opportunity to strike down Roe Vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling with which the highest court decriminalized abortion.

Loading Video...Supreme Court refuses to block SB8 law that prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy in Texas

In Missouri —one of the states with the most restrictions, where only one clinic remains open— its legislators they applauded the measure and advanced that they would seek to "eliminate abortion" completely.

"This is about more than abortion. It's all about who has the power to decide about you, who has the authority to make decisions for you and ultimately what your life is going to be." future," says Yamelsie Rodriguez, president of Planned Parenthood in the Saint Louis and Missouri area.

But the statement from state legislators didn't come as a surprise to providers. Rodríguez says that due to the affront of politicians to the right to abortion in most of the states of the center and south of the country, the organization decided to invest 10 million dollars to open a clinic that could care for women, a kind of oasis of the reproductive rights of women. It was launched that year in Illinois, a state where Governor JB Pritzker established abortion as a fundamental right.

"We are preparing for more restrictions. More women who will have to leave their states and travel hundreds of miles to access legal abortion in other states, including Illinois. Many people ask me or may think it's a depressing situation, but I remind them that I still have hope," says Rodríguez.

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Since 2019, 75% of patients receiving at this Illinois clinic they come from other states: mostly from Missouri, but they also travel from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, and now, they call more from Texas than ever before. They have the capacity to see up to 15,000 patients a year. They perform around 6,000 abortions. This is one of the points that Dr. Kumar recommends to his patients.

Kumar assures that, despite the situation in Texas, he is "committed" to staying in this state: "Even if I leave, there will be women who will continue to live here and require care."

The battle by doctors and organizations against Texas' anti-abortion law has not stopped. On Thursday, a coalition of Texas abortion providers — including funds, doctors like Kumar and human rights organizations — asked the Supreme Court to expedite their arguments to appeal SB8.

For Kumar, what is happening "is a disaster." As a doctor, he feels his ethics break every time he tells a patient, "I can't help you." However, he hopes the legal battle will take them to the point where "justice wins."

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"There are very few women we can help": a doctor tells how Texas law affects abortion access
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