Chipping Away at Roe in Texas and Beyond

In June 2013, I along with countless others across the country watched the live feed of Wendy Davis’ marathon filibuster of Texas Senate Bill 5 which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unnecessarily required abortion clinics to meet the same standards that hospital-style surgical centers must meet, and mandated that a doctor who performs abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. As the filibuster continued into the night, I cheered Wendy Davis on and watched in awe as activists filled the state house. I was heartened to see so many people from my home state of Texas stand up and make their voices heard.

Unfortunately, Davis’ victory was short lived. During a special session a few weeks later the legislature passed House Bill 2, a bill almost identical to the one Wendy Davis helped defeat. And so three years later, Wendy Davis is once again in the news, talking about her own abortion as part of an amicus brief filed in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the court case that is challenging parts of HB2.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

The effects of HB2 and other restrictions on access to reproductive health care have already been felt across Texas. Only nineteen abortion clinics remain open in Texas—fewer than half the number that were open in 2013. Whole Woman’s Health, which will be heard by the Supreme Court in March, challenges two of the most onerous provisions requiring that: doctors who provide abortion services obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital and every health care facility offering abortion care must meet building specifications to essentially become mini-hospitals. These medically unnecessary and onerous requirements are designed to force abortion providers to close, making it harder for women to access abortion services. Abortion is an extremely safe procedure and abortion providers already have plans in place for the rare instances in which there is an emergency. That’s why leading medical experts and organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians Gynecologists  strongly oppose these medically unnecessary requirements on women’s health care services.

These types of requirements—often called targeted regulations of abortion providers or TRAP laws—are part of concerted efforts to chip away at a women’s constitutional right to abortion that was upheld in Roe v. Wade. While supporters of these laws may give lip service to protecting women’s health they also don’t shy away from stating their true intent. In July 2015, Jodie Laubenberg, a Texas state representative and the author of HB2, stated “I am so proud that Texas always takes the lead in trying to turn back what started with Roe v. Wade.” And that, ultimately, is the goal—to turn back Roe v. Wade. It’s not one fell swoop but rather death by a thousand cuts.

Twenty-four states have TRAP laws that regulate abortion providers and clinics beyond what is necessary to ensure patient safety. These restrictions only make it harder for women to access abortion services. In Texas, for example, wait times at some facilities have increased to as long as 23 days. And longer waits mean more women will be forced to have abortions later and the proportion of second trimester abortions will increase. No one should be forced to wait unnecessarily for needed medical care. Longer wait times also mean increased expenses as second trimester abortions cost more than first trimester abortions. If HB2 is upheld, as many as 10 more abortion clinics could close, increasing wait times even more. In some parts of Texas the proportion of abortions performed in the second trimester could increase from 10.5% to 19.5%. And it’s not just wait times, some women would have to travel for hours in order to reach the nearest abortion clinic in Texas. How can anyone claim that that is good for women?

We Won’t Sit Down

As those opposed to abortion clearly recognize—a right that can’t be accessed isn’t much of a right. So they pass laws and support policies that make it harder, if not impossible, to access abortion care. As the late, great Texas satirist and commentator, Molly Ivins, once said, “Bad policies, stupid policies, gutless polices have real consequences.” Texas women and women across the country are being forced to suffer those consequences while politicians continue their campaign to gut Roe. But we do not go gentle into that good night. Instead, people everywhere are following in the footsteps of great Texas women like Molly Ivins and Anne Richards. They are standing up with Wendy Davis and declaring loudly, “I stand with Texas women—with all women—and I won’t sit down.”