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For many Texans, it's a long drive out of state for abortion

Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

But Seago said the group, which set up a website for those seeking to enforce the law, has been "monitoring closely all of the public statements from the abortion providers as well as their status as a clinic."

Seago said the law applies only in Texas, that it's not illegal for Texas women to travel out of state to get abortions or for people to help them. But he said some women are not making it that far.

"A lot of those patients who are getting turned away are ending up at pregnancy resource centers usually across the street or nearby," Seago said — facilities run by anti-abortion groups, including Choices Medical Clinic next door to Trust Women in Wichita.

Outside the Wichita clinic, anti-abortion protesters praised the Texas law and said they had been gearing up to intercept the influx of patients.

"They told us to get ready because people are going to come from south and all over to get here," said Joseph Elmore, 73, who was protesting outside the clinic during his day off in front of a Kansas Coalition for Life truck that said, "Every abortion is an act of violence!"

A substitute teacher, Elmore called the Texas law "encouraging."

"Finally people are going, 'We're up to our necks in blood, it's got to stop,'" said protester Laura Goetz, 57, calling the Texas law "a start."

Inside the clinic, the director — who has a clothes hanger tattooed behind her ear — said the law had been demoralizing.

"This is as close as we've come to Roe falling. It's going to get bad. It's already very bad," she said as she sat in her office next to a sign that said, "Keep Abortion Safe."

In California, Planned Parenthood clinics have already started seeing two to three added patients a day from Texas since the law took effect, spokesman Brandon Richards said, and expect the influx to increase, "especially if other hostile states adopt a similar law."

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains saw the number of Texas patients at its clinics in Colorado and New Mexico increase from eight to about three dozen after the law took effect, a spokeswoman said.

"What we're seeing more are people who don't have the resources to stay in Kansas, Oklahoma, these states that have arbitrary two-, three-day waiting periods. The people we're seeing, they can't take that much time off, they don't have the supports," said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which offers logistical support to those seeking abortions in Albuquerque.

They are fielding double the number of calls, raised about $20,000, attracted nearly three dozen volunteers and are adding trainings, she said.

Emily Wales, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said the organization started to see an increase in Texas patients even before the law passed at its clinics in Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, where it sued to block the proposed "heartbeat law."

"Folks are begging friends to help them get to care. Many of them are very, very concerned about the cost, their family obligations," she said.

The Texas law increased regional abortion costs, which were already higher than in California because clinics such as Trust Women have to fly doctors in from other states — including California — and only certain local businesses will work with them, Brink said.

 

Texas women are more likely to be uninsured and pay more for abortions because the state has both the highest rate and number of uninsured people in the country.

The average out-of-pocket cost of abortion varies nationwide depending on insurance coverage, from $300 to $1,500 for medication abortion, and $295 to $1,600 for surgical abortion, according to a California legislative analysis this year.

Trust Women charges $650 for medication and surgical abortion; after the first trimester, women pay more than $750. Anesthesia costs $150 more, plus women must arrange for someone to drive them home or find a place to stay overnight.

Texas has almost 7 million women of reproductive age, about 1 in 10 in the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Last year, Texas doctors performed about 55,000 abortions, while doctors in states such as Kansas did far fewer — about 7,500. The closest clinics can't absorb all of the Texas patients, who are already going farther afield, displacing patients in surrounding states.

Earlier this month, two women separately drove about a day from Texas' Rio Grande Valley on the Mexico border to out-of-state clinics: one to New Mexico, the other to Shreveport, Louisiana, clinic staff members said. Both had to show they were in the country legally to clear Texas Border Patrol checkpoints.

It's not clear what migrant women living in Texas illegally will do, said Zaena Zamora, the Rio Grande Valley-based executive director of the nonprofit Frontera Fund that helps local women seeking abortions.

"We're leaving out a population who's vulnerable who are at the mercy of this law," she said.

A handful of abortion funds have set up websites to help women find clinics and pay for abortions. But fewer women have been seeking assistance, said Davé, the Lilith Fund acting director. She said they receive as few as 10 calls a day, a third to a fifth of what they received before the law.

"People are scared that abortion is illegal and that they will be penalized for seeking care," Davé said. "We need this law to be struck down. We are already nearly living in a post-Roe Texas. The vast majority of women who need to access abortion care can't."

The same day the Justice Department sued to block the Texas law, Vice President Kamala Harris met with abortion providers from Texas and surrounding states at the White House, including Dr. Bhavik Kumar, staff physician at Houston's Planned Parenthood Center for Choice. Kumar said the meeting and lawsuit left him "reassured that the administration was doing everything they could to help us maintain access."

Kumar said he's had patients arrive for appointments who qualified for abortions under the new law only to return after the state's mandatory 24-hour waiting period and no longer qualify because fetal cardiac activity was detected. He said he was concerned about patients with medical complications having to travel for abortions, or being unable to travel, forced to carry hazardous pregnancies to term.

"We're going to see effects on maternal morbidity and mortality," Kumar predicted, which were already high in Texas, "comparable to developing countries."

In Wichita last Thursday, Meagan took her abortion medication and prepared to return to Texas.

"I'm glad I was able to get the help I needed," she said.

But with the Justice Department lawsuit pending, she said she felt fellow Texans seeking abortions were still at risk, "until the law's settled."

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