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The calls started pouring in from Texas even before the abortion ban took effect.
At the Trust Women abortion clinic in Oklahoma City, the phones have been ringing off the hook, as Texans faced the reality that, earlier this week, their state had enacted a law that would ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Callers aren't even sure how the law works, exactly. They wanted to know: “Do I have to keep this secret from other people?”
“If we wanted to know what things were going to look like if Roe fell, we’re getting a sneak peek,” said Rebecca Tong, co-executive director of Trust Women, in reference to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. “And it would be even more horrendous.” Tong is shocked that the United States is at this point—and yet, given how abortion access has been relentlessly attacked over the last decade, not all surprised.
Although it’s only officially been in effect for a few days, the impact of the Texas abortion ban has already started to reverberate beyond the state’s borders, as people who work for and with abortion clinics in the states surrounding Texas are scrambling to keep up with a surge of people fleeing the Lone Star State. Although some in-state clinics are still providing abortions to people whose pregnancies are less than six weeks along, at least 85 percent of Texas abortions take place after that benchmark.
Now, those patients will have to head out of state for help.
Earlier this week, people calling into the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, an affiliate that runs health centers across four Western states, were put on hold for up to 90 minutes. The affiliate is so booked that it’s scheduling patients in for appointments in late September.
The affiliate is so booked that it’s scheduling patients in for appointments in late September.
The Oklahoma City Trust Women clinic, where Tong has been working this week, is now booking patients for about three weeks out. On Monday and Tuesday, as the Texas ban loomed, the clinic scheduled 80 appointments.
Although a handful of red states have passed similar six-week bans over the last two years, they’ve all been halted by court challenges. But rather than relying on the state government to enforce its ban, Texas has outsourced that role to its own citizens: Now, people can sue individuals who they suspect of helping someone break the law and get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Abortion providers, people who help patients pay for abortions, anyone who helps drive patients to an abortion clinic, and countless other people could be in the crosshairs of these anti-abortion vigilantes.
Texas abortion providers have sued over the law, in a challenge that made it all the way up the Supreme Court, but the justices let it go into effect early Wednesday morning. Then, just before midnight that same day, they officially voted 5-4 to allow it to continue, because the case raised “complex and novel antecedent procedural questions” that remain unaddressed by the abortion providers.
“We’re in, simultaneously, such an unbelievable position and yet completely believable,” Tong said.
Tong predicts that, going forward, more than half of the patients at the Oklahoma City clinic will come from Texas. Trust Women is now, perhaps, attempting to see up to 10 times the number of patients that it previously did.
“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, and we’ve never seen anything like this.”
When she saw the Supreme Court vote, Tong said, “My mind immediately was like, ‘Oh no, what’s gonna happen in Mississippi? What’s gonna happen to the laws here, in Oklahoma?’ We’re surrounded by states that don’t have any protections for abortions.”
Joan Lamunyon Sanford is the executive director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which helps people pay for transportation, lodging, and other costs associated with getting an abortion. She thinks that demand for her group’s services will at least double after the Texas ban.
“We have never had to turn anyone down and I don’t want to start now,” Lamunyon Sanford said. In all of 2020, the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice helped just over 200 people. Now, with three months left to go in 2021, the group has already helped almost that many.
“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, and we’ve never seen anything like this,” Lamunyon Sanford said.
Abortion providers did get a taste of what the Texas ban may bring in spring 2020, when abortion access flickered in Texas in and out. At the time, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was attempting to use the coronavirus pandemic as a justification to shut down Texas abortion clinics, resulting in a protracted legal battle that spurred mass panic, confusion, and an exodus of abortion patients into Texas’ surrounding states.
In 2019, all abortion clinics in Kansas saw about 25 patients from Texas, according to Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, Trust Women’s communications director. In 2020, that number swelled to nearly 300.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains saw a twelve-fold increase in Texas patients during the Texas debacle last spring, said Adrienne Mansanares, the organization’s chief experience officer. Now, she said, “I anticipate it exceeding that amount.”
“I also think that patients are going to be coming in with more healthcare needs,” she continued. “For example, patients may be further along in their gestational age. Abortion care is safe. it’s very safe at any stage of an abortion. But it’s just easier and more convenient earlier in the pregnancy. So we’re anticipating people having to travel longer distances, maybe save more money to afford the gas or to get their kids to child care, to take the days off work.”
“We’re already this week seeing patients who are coming in who have literally been terrorized in their own state.”
And, beyond all of those obstacles, Planned Parenthood’s patients from Texas, she said, are emotionally wrung out.
“We’re already this week seeing patients who are coming in who have literally been terrorized in their own state,” she said. “They have high levels of shame, high levels of stigma. They’re exhausted. They’re scared. With this new law granting citizens the right to be vigilantes and sue people, that has an impact on people’s emotional health.”
Others are trying to help as well. The Texas Equal Access Fund, an abortion fund, announced on Wednesday that hundreds of volunteer applications had been submitted since the enactment of the ban.
"Since Tuesday evening, Whole Woman's Health Alliance has seen a flood of donations pouring in from supporters in Texas and across the country,” Sonja Miller, director of people and culture at Whole Woman's Health, a group of abortion clinics, told VICE News in an email. “The total as of Friday morning is more than $260k.”
“Texas deserves to be able to have the full spectrum of health care that they need,” said Kamyon Connor, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund. “I don’t think any amount of money is actually going to ever be enough.”