March 7, 2014 — Whole Woman's Health on Wednesday announced that it would close two facilities in Texas because they are unable to comply with the state's stringent new abortion regulations (HB 2), the Texas Tribune reports (Ura/Aaronson, Texas Tribune, 3/6).
Since the regulations became law, many Texas abortion clinics have stopped offering the procedure because they are not able to comply with a provision that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/26/13). Many clinics also are unable to meet the law's requirement that they have on-site ambulatory surgical centers, according to the National Journal (Novack, National Journal, 3/6).
In October, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the admitting privileges requirement and another provision requiring that physicians be present when administering medication abortion could take effect while a case challenging the law is appealed.
After the ruling, women's health care providers filed an emergency application asking the Supreme Court to block enforcement of the law while the appeals process continues. The high court in a 5-4 decision said it would not intervene, meaning that the law will remain in place at least until the 5th Circuit rules on the case (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/26/13).
The 5th Circuit heard the case in January, but it has not yet issued a ruling (Texas Tribune, 3/6).
Whole Woman's Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said that the organization is closing its clinics in McAllen and Beaumont (Tomlinson, AP/Washington Times, 3/6). The clinic in McAllen stopped providing abortions in November, while the Beaumont facility stopped offering the procedure about a week and a half ago.
In 2011, there were 44 abortion clinics in Texas, according to the Journal. With the latest closures, there will be 20 remaining clinics, only six of which are likely to meet the ambulatory surgical center requirement, scheduled to take effect Sept. 1, the Journal reports.
Hagstrom Miller said neither the McAllen nor Beaumont clinics could meet the ambulatory surgical center requirement. In addition, the sole abortion provider at the Beaumont location who had admitting privileges is 75 years old and trying to retire, and Hagstrom Miller had no success obtaining such privileges for other providers.
Both clinics serve areas of Texas with predominately low-income residents. The Beaumont clinic -- which serves about 1,200 patients annually -- is the only abortion facility between Houston and New Orleans, which means that after its closure, patients seeking abortion care would have to travel 90 miles to Houston for the closest clinic.
The McAllen clinic was the only abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley and served about 1,700 patients annually. The next closest clinic is in Corpus Christi, about 150 miles away, but it does not currently meet the ambulatory surgical center requirements, meaning that women seeking an abortion after September likely would have to travel about 230 miles to San Antonio (National Journal, 3/6).
Hagstrom Miller said, "We didn't change the amount of women in the community who are still going to need the service," she said, adding, "We just blocked their access to getting it safely" (Texas Tribune, 3/6).