Texas Abortion Providers Scramble To Ensure Abortion Access Under New Law

November 22, 2013 — Texas abortion providers are working to secure abortion access for women in the state after the Supreme Court said it would not block a new law (HB 2) that requires their doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the Texas Tribune reports (Aaronson, Texas Tribune, 11/20).

In October, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law's admitting privileges requirement and another provision requiring that physicians be present when administering medication abortion could take effect while the case is appealed. The court scheduled an expedited hearing for January, but several clinics in the state had to stop offering abortion services after the law took effect.

Women's health care providers filed an emergency application asking the high court to block enforcement of the law while the appeal continues. The Supreme 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 considers the case in January (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/20).

According to the Tribune, one-third of Texas abortion providers have stopped offering the procedures because they do not employ a doctor who meets the admitting privileges requirement.

Clinics are also grappling with the new medication abortion restrictions. Patients must now visit a clinic four times for a medication abortion and see the same physician, which complicates scheduling.

Efforts To Accommodate Patients

Planned Parenthood Federation of America Vice President of Communications Eric Ferrero said the organization is "working to help make sure that our patients and women across Texas can get the services that they need."

The group is attempting to obtain admitting privileges for doctors who do not have them, as well as offset the cost of transportation and lodging for some women who have to travel long distances. Ferrero said obtaining admitting privileges is difficult, noting that there are "unquestionably parts of this state where" the politicization of abortion care has stopped hospitals from granting the privileges to abortion providers.

Ferrero said media coverage of the court developments has prompted confusion among patients about which clinics are still open, but he emphasized that 50 Planned Parenthood centers throughout Texas are still offering other women's health services, like contraceptives and cancer screenings.

Four of the dozen providers that have suspended abortion services in Texas are Planned Parenthood clinics, the Tribune reports. Facilities operated by Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas have consolidated abortion services previously offered at three clinics to just one location.

Supporters of HB 2 have said the new standards make abortion safer and protect women. Texas Alliance for Life Executive Director Joe Pojman said he does not view the law as "putting anybody out of business; I see it as putting in safety standards that should have been there all along." He added, "[Providers] either choose to abide by those safety standards or they do not. And we know that it can be done" (Texas Tribune, 11/20).