This week, the University of Texas produced new research showing women wait an average of 20 days for an abortion in some of the state's regions. Their study, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), measured the impact of the HB2 anti-abortion law. Since the law passed, the number abortion clinics in Texas dropped from 41 to 18, and wait times have skyrocketed. HB2 forces abortion providers to meet standards similar to those of hospitals, like mandated minimum room sizes and pipelines to anesthesia.
"The TxPEP research really just confirms what we already knew would happen and what we have been seeing on the ground with folks trying to access clinics," says Heather Busby, Executive Director of the statewide pro-choice advocacy organization, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. "It more directly impacts folks who are the most vulnerable. The folks who have to travel the furthest, who don't have access to healthcare to begin with."
Abortion providers and health organizations have opposed the legislation according to NPR. The Supreme Court's new term began this week. If they decide not to hear HB2, or if they take the case and rule in favor of Texas, Busby says the results will be devastating—and ironic. "The projections are that 20-day wait times will be the norm, and that will result in a doubling of abortions performed in the second trimester," she says. Although second trimester abortions are considered safe, Busby says the procedure comes with an increased risk for complications when compared to abortions performed in a pregnancy's first trimester. "So HB2 does exactly the opposite of the lawmaker's purported intent," she explains. "Of course, [abortion providers] knew all along the real intent was to close down clinics."
Anti-abortion legislation attempts to limit women's access to abortion services in multiple ways: reducing the number of clinics, setting restrictive waiting periods, distributing shock value anti-abortion reading material, and forcing patients to make repeated visits to clinics before receiving treatment. "Forcing someone to wait longer doesn't change their decision," Busby says. "It only adds obstacles that make [abortion] more difficult to access, and can often jeopardize [women's] health or their safety. Think about a domestic violence situation. To have someone go to a clinic more than once when even that one time could put their life at risk? What are you thinking?"
Women's access to reproductive healthcare is enmeshed in Texas's political landscape. The state's prevailing conservative attitudes and legislation make reproductive health taboo subject matter. "There's a lot of misinformation," Busby explains. "Texas has had a long standing problem with lack of accurate Sex Ed." According to her, there's also a statewide lack of preventive reproductive health care, like contraception. "If you compound all those factors and take away access to health clinics, both family planning clinics and abortion clinics, the options are fewer and further between. What we're seeing is folks who aren't sure if abortion is even legal in Texas anymore."
As the conservative right encroaches upon women's liberty, pro-choice organizations like NARAL are fighting to empower people who don't believe their voice matters. "It starts with voter turnout, and changing the culture around voting in our state," Busby says. "I think once that starts changing, we can slowly start changing the rest of it."
The rest of it means continued lobbying for the rights of women, public education, and increased access to reasonably regulated reproductive health services, including abortion. Advocating for a woman's right to choose in one of the most conservative states in the US isn't easy. "Sometimes when we have public events we'll have protestors," Busby says. "We had a Men for Choice event in Houston, and we had a lot of protestors there. They even created a special brochure just for us to hand out to the men and encourage them to be real men and support whatever."
Through NARAL, Busby wants to broaden the discourse on abortion to bring a nuanced perspective to the issue. "We're doing a lot of education in the community about how people have these conversations, in a way that takes it out of this completely polarized political discussion into more of a discussion of the decisions families are making—the way that people really think and feel about abortion and not just pro-choice [or] pro-life."
According to Busby, the battle starts with voting, and in Texas, voting is difficult. "We have 20 years of oppression in one party rule, so it's not going to happen over night," she say. The state enforces a strict voter ID law and suffers from gerrymandering. Citizens feel like their vote doesn't matter. "On a local level it absolutely matters," Busby says. "In a statewide race it absolutely matters. Getting folks to understand that and start showing up and demanding that they want a change, I think, is going to be the first step in the right direction."