Women’s health clinics in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and elsewhere are reporting an influx of out-of-state patients from Texas seeking abortions and other services, just weeks after the United States Supreme Court upheld Texas’ restrictive abortion law.
Some clinics in neighboring states report being overrun with out-of-state patients. Administrators said they are adding hours to try to catch up on the backlog. Meanwhile, clinics in Texas are turning away the majority of their patients and laying off employees.
The out-of-state migration follows the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act, which went into effect on September 1 after the Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge. The law prohibits abortions after “cardiac activity” is detected, which is usually around six weeks of gestation, and empowers private citizens to sue anyone they believe may have assisted in such a procedure and collect $10,000. On Monday, two different plaintiffs sued a Texas doctor who publicly stated he performed abortions in state court, handing Texas the first tests of the law.
Staff members at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La., about 200 miles east of Dallas, are booked more than three weeks out and have begun adding some evening hours to get patients in for appointments as soon as possible, according to administrator Kathaleen Pittman.
“Because of the delay, they’ll be further along,” Ms. Pittman said of the new Texas law’s impact. According to her, the majority of patients she sees report that the reason for terminating a pregnancy is financial, and many are struggling with the cost of traveling to Louisiana and taking time off work for the two required appointments.
According to executive administrator Andrea Gallegos, at least 70% of patients at Tulsa Women’s Clinic in Tulsa, Okla., are now from Texas. Some are traveling from as far away as the Rio Grande Valley, which is a 12-hour drive away. Ms. Gallegos said the clinic has tripled its daily appointments to about 35 and added some Saturday hours.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, the average Texas woman of childbearing age lives 17 miles from an abortion clinic in the state but 247 miles from one out of state.
According to Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, a group that advocated for the Texas law, the state has increased funding for women who carry pregnancies to term by $20 million.
Mr. Pojman stated that at least 20 of the state’s 23 licensed abortion providers are in business, but his organization has no idea how many abortions are being performed.
Clinics in Texas report that many staff members have left since the law went into effect, citing concerns about being sued even if they complied fully with the new law. “My employees are afraid to come to work. Normally, I have eight. Linda Shafer, administrator of Aaron Women’s Clinic in Houston, said, “I have two or three today.”
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in North, Central, and South Texas, stated that the clinics are now denying abortions to an estimated 80% of patients they have seen since the new law went into effect, turning them away after an ultrasound. Ms. Miller explained that at that point, the clinics can only provide patients with a few websites that list other options. Patients, she said, “are leaving the clinic without a plan.”
According to abortion providers and care advocates, more women are turning to self-administered methods, such as ordering abortion pills online. According to Ms. Miller, the majority of Texas’ abortion clinics are small, independent clinics that may be forced to close permanently if the law remains in place.
The Rio Grande Valley, the Texas region farthest from any other state and hemmed in by Mexico to the south and immigration checkpoints to the north, is one of the most affected. According to Lucy Felix, a Brownsville-based outreach coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, this prevents anyone in the country illegally from traveling for an abortion. “For our undocumented immigrant communities, forced pregnancy is now state law,” she explained.
In addition to the suits filed on Monday, the US Justice Department has sued Texas in an attempt to stop the law, with a hearing scheduled for October 1.