Texas, ground zero for assault on abortion in US

By Lucia Leal

El Paso, Texas, Jun 22 (EFE).- The alternatives to getting an abortion in Texas are on a whiteboard in an El Paso clinic: wait two weeks for an appointment in Colorado, three in New Mexico, four in Kansas. That’s a prelude of what will occur in a large portion of the US if the Supreme Court overturns the right to interrupt pregnancy sometime in the coming weeks.

More than nine months have passed since the almost complete ban on abortion went into effect in Texas, but what Miranda Aguirre has been doing since day one hasn’t changed: telling the patients at her abortion clinic that electrical activity has been detected in the cardiac cells of their fetuses.

“It’s a sense of defeat,” the director of the only clinic still providing abortions in El Paso told EFE in an interview, a clinic that belongs to the Planned Parenthood reproductive health organization.

That kind of cardiac activity is usually only detected at the sixth week of gestation, a moment when many women still don’t know that they’re pregnant. It’s starting at that point that Texas law SB 8 now prohibits abortion and when a race against the clock begins for women who want to find other options for interrupting their often unexpected and unwanted pregnancies.

“So then, we’re in ‘go’ mode: Tell me where this patient’s going? How far do they have to travel? What is it that we can provide to them? How can we get them their appointment?” Aguirre said.

On the board in her office are listed the wait times for getting an abortion appointment in nearby states. In recent weeks, Oklahoma had to be dropped from the list after its legislature approved the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.

But even in that case, the seeds of the issue were planted in Texas.

The pecular mechanism thought up by Texas lawmakers to prevent the courts from overturning their anti-abortion law now has been copied in other states like Oklahoma and Idaho and has enabled conservative leaders throughout the US to taste the victory they have been seeking for decades: checkmating access to abortion in their jurisdictions.

Texas has always been the laboratory for abortion bans, the president of the West Fund’s board of directors, who identified herself only as Rachel, told EFE.

The West Fund helps finance travel to get abortions for women from El Paso and nearby areas in New Mexico, a state governed by Democrats and where the right to abortion is still protected. The majority of those looking to interrupt their pregnancies in the US are poor and the cost of travel to the clinic, food, lodging and childcare for kids left at home must be added to that of the procedure, which ranges from $500 to $1,500.

Rachel admitted that they don’t get as much funding as they would like, given that they’ve received a noteworthy “increase” in abortion requests since the Texas abortion ban came into effect and adding that there is a lot of “confusion” among the public about what’s legal and what’s not, saying that, in effect, the law is designed to “frighten” people.

The ban does not allow anyone to sue women who get an abortion but it does enable lawsuits to be filed against anyone helping them, from doctors to taxi drivers who take them to a clinic, and it incentivizes any citizen to report the practice with rewards of up to $10,000 if the accused are found guilty.

Although there have not been any such court cases yet since the ban entered into effect, the spread of disinformation has increased along with the fear among many women that they will be criminalized, above all based on the case of Lizelle Herrera, a resident of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas who was charged with murder in April for allegedly self-inducing the abortion of her unborn fetus.

The charges against her ended up being dropped but doubts remain in the air, as well as the fear among many women of being brought to trial for having an abortion. And that panic is permeating everything: there are cases of patients who are losing desired pregnancies after having health problems and going to the hospital emergency room and there the medical personnel don’t want to help them for fear of facing legal consequences, Aguirre said.

Even so, interest in self-induced abortions has increased and some women are acquiring medications to end their pregnancies in Mexico, where these drugs are sold in pharmacies, while others are requesting the meds by mail, even though that is illegal.

The women who are having the most difficulty are undocumented migrants along the border who cannot travel anywhere because of the checkpoints all over where authorities will ask them for their papers, and if they cannot provide them they will be detained and possibly deported.

They’re being forced to choose between deportation or being forced to give birth, the philanthropic director of Planned Parenthood in West Texas, Xochitl Rodriguez, told EFE.

In the coming days, it is expected that the Supreme Court will confirm the fear that has been morphing into a certainty after a draft high court ruling was leaked in May that a majority of the nine magistrates were planning to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal throughout the US.

If and when that occurs, each state will be able to decide not to regulate the right to abortion, and it is expected that 26 states headed by conservatives will restrict the practice. Like normal, Texas will be in the vanguard of that effort, having already approved a law that will completely ban abortion starting 30 days after the high court ruling.

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