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Bad Policy, Bad Medicine: Anti-Choice Law Leaves Vast Swaths of Texas with No Abortion Provider

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We broadcast from San Antonio, which is now the last outpost for legal abortion in southern Texas. Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a provision requiring abortion providers to meet hospital-style building requirements to come into immediate effect, effectively gutting abortion access overnight. The move shuttered 13 clinics and left just eight open in a state that once had more than 40 facilities. On Monday, a number of abortion providers filed an emergency application asking the Supreme Court to intervene. The provision is part of HB2, a sweeping anti-choice law passed last summer after it was initially blocked by a people’s filibuster and an 11-hour stand from Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis. We speak with two guests: Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Texas, which is building a new facility in San Antonio that meets the new regulations, and Lindsay Rodriguez, president of the Lilith Fund, which provides grants to Texans who need abortions but cannot afford them.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from San Antonio, which is now the last outpost for legal abortion in South Texas. There are three known facilities providing abortions here in San Antonio, but none remain south or west of here. The Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost part of Texas, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, has no abortion providers. Nearly one million women of reproductive age must now travel 300 miles round trip to access abortion care. That’s because of a sweeping anti-choice law which passed last summer. Known as HB2, the bill was initially blocked by a people’s filibuster and an 11-hour stand by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, now running for governor. But Texas Governor Rick Perry called a second [special] session of the state Legislature, and the bill was passed. It’s since gone into effect in stages, with the number of clinics dropping over time.

Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a provision of the law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of hospital-style surgery centers to come into effect immediately. The ruling gutted abortion access overnight, shuttering 13 clinics and leaving just eight, in a state which previously had more than 40. All of the remaining clinics are in four metropolitan areas. On Monday, a number of abortion providers filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court to block the provision.

For more, we’re joined now by two guests here in San Antonio. Lindsay Rodriguez is with us, the president of the Lilith Fund, which provides grants to Texans who need abortions but can’t afford them. And Jeffrey Hons is with us, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Texas, which is now building a new facility here in San Antonio that meets the new regulations. For now, Planned Parenthood is providing abortions in a rented ambulatory surgical center.

Lindsay Rodriguez, Jeffrey Hons, welcome to Democracy Now! Jeffrey, let’s begin with you. The significance of this law, and just what happened this week, why another 13 of the original about 40 clinics have been shut down, leaving just eight?

JEFFREY HONS: Well, the legal back-and-forth between the federal court and the appeals court has gone several times. And now the Fifth Circuit, once again, has said Texas may enforce this terrible new abortion law. And whenever that law goes into effect, there are a lot of people, a lot of providers, who were helping women, who are unable to because the law stops them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what’s happening here, the significance of your facility and what you’re doing to upgrade it.

JEFFREY HONS: Well, we’re going to comply with this law, even though we don’t agree with it. And it’s so important, because, as you said, we are the southernmost and westernmost place where you can find an abortion in Texas, and there’s a whole lot of Texas that is south and west of us. The southern border of Texas is a five-hour drive away, going 65, 70 miles an hour. The western border of Texas, El Paso, is 10 hours away by car. There are large swaths of Texas. And I think the supporters of this terrible bill, they keep talking about how there are so few people in these vast areas of Texas, that they’re relatively unpopulated. When you go talk to the people who live there, you are reminded: These are United States and Texas citizens also. Their lives are just as important as people in urban areas. And because they live in rural or remote areas, and maybe they are more economically disadvantaged and don’t have the kind of access that others might have, that doesn’t make their life, their decisions, their better future, less important.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe what these current restrictions are that have just gone into effect.

JEFFREY HONS: Well, the one that’s the most important one now about this surgery center requirement, there is no medical reason to have a surgery center for first-trimester abortion care. And so, then, whenever someone is in one of these far-flung areas and is trying to find a surgery center, the distance she must travel, the immigration checkpoints that she and her partner will go through—and maybe they are or are not documented and fear driving through these immigration checkpoints—these are real burdens, and the psychological burden of knowing I have to leave my home, my family, my town, my world behind to search for this very private, very intimate healthcare, after very difficult decision making, and now do so in a place where my support network is not around me.

AMY GOODMAN: Lindsay Rodriguez, talk about the hours that people must travel and who will be most affected by this, especially in the Rio Grande Valley.

LINDSAY RODRIGUEZ: Sure. So the Lilith Fund runs a hotline where people call when they need an abortion and can’t afford it. So we hear stories all the time about people that are having to travel from these areas like the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio to try and get care. Overwhelmingly, the people that are most disadvantaged by these laws are going to be people of lower economic means. They might be people that are dealing with immigration issues. They might be people that, for any number of reasons, have more barriers to healthcare access in general—not just abortion care, but also healthcare access. So, people that might be dealing with language issues, with sometimes disability, oftentimes just less stable working conditions, so maybe less money.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey just talked about the immigration checkpoints.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain? For a lot of people who are watching or listening right now, they might not know what we’re talking about.


AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, checkpoints?

LINDSAY RODRIGUEZ: So, if you’re coming from the Rio Grande Valley, which is on the border of Texas and Mexico, there’s a large percentage of people that live there that they may be here without documentation, or maybe they have documentation that allows them to work but not leave a certain radius around the city that they’re working. There’s—

AMY GOODMAN: But now wait a second. You’re not talking about just crossing the border from Mexico into the United States.

LINDSAY RODRIGUEZ: I’m not. So, to come from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio, there’s an immigration checkpoint about 200 miles in from the border that people still have to go through again. So between the Texas and Mexico border and San Antonio, there’s a separate immigration checkpoint that people have to cross over. So, once again, even if people are here with documentation, they may not be allowed to go through that checkpoint. And if they’re here without legal documentation, they definitely are not allowed to go through that checkpoint. So they’re taking into account the safety of their families, of possibly splitting up families, of having to deal with possibly becoming deported, if they cross through this immigration checkpoint to try and get access to their legal human right to abortion.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. She recently revealed in a new campaign memoir that she had terminated two pregnancies for medical reasons in the 1990s, including one where the fetus developed a severe brain abnormality. This is Wendy Davis speaking on ABC News about her decision to have an abortion.

SEN. WENDY DAVIS: Our baby had a severe brain abnormality. If she did survive to term, she likely would not survive delivery. And if she did survive delivery, she likely would be in a vegetative state. We knew that the most loving thing that we could do for our daughter was to say goodbye.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Wendy Davis, who is running for governor now in Texas. The significance of her personal revelations, Jeffrey, coming out in her memoir, now discussing them?

JEFFREY HONS: I always find an interesting and unfortunate or poignant tension in this, that, on the one hand, a woman should be allowed all the privacy to have this healthcare and not have to reveal it to everyone, and then, at the same time, on the other hand, it’s as though when a woman will have the courage to share the story, that it humanizes it, and it makes everyone realize that these decisions are very complicated, very personal, very difficult, and there’s just something about abortion and pregnancy, these decisions, you don’t know what you would do unless you’re walking in their shoes.

AMY GOODMAN: You are CEO of the Planned Parenthood clinic in South Texas here in San Antonio. What kind of pressure is this putting on your clinic, from 40 abortion clinics down now to eight?

JEFFREY HONS: We feel the pressure in a lot of ways. I am a little concerned that the dramatic rise in phone calls that I think is still going to come hasn’t started all that much, and that makes me worried that women in these situations are feeling paralyzed, that they don’t have anything to do. Just recently here, the local news here ran an erroneously prepared story that we were closed. And we’re not. And so, I worry that women think abortion just simply isn’t accessible. We have women who call us and are simply asking, “So, is abortion still legal in Texas?” Because when you think of all the news coverage and all the lawsuits, it starts to create a real sense of doubt that maybe the care just isn’t there at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to a heated women’s health panel last month at the Texas Tribune Festival. During the panel, Molly White, a Republican who’s running unopposed for a seat in the Texas House, asserted women who have undergone abortion are prone to drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide. White said she spoke from personal experience, having had two abortions herself. Democratic State Representative Dawnna Dukes challenged White’s allegations and unexpectedly revealed she, too, had had an abortion. This is part of their exchange, beginning with Representative Dukes.

REP. DAWNNA DUKES: And I know for a fact that one who has an abortion does not have alcohol and drug-related issues. That is a personality type that should have gotten some psychological treatment.

MOLLY WHITE: Well, I would like to respond to that. I would definitely like to respond to that, because unless you’ve had your own abortion, you cannot tell a woman what she feels and what she—and this is a personality—

REP. DAWNNA DUKES: Well, you know what?

MOLLY WHITE: If it’s a personality disorder—

REP. DAWNNA DUKES: You know what? If one has to say it—

MOLLY WHITE: Let me—just hold on. I’m speaking.

REP. DAWNNA DUKES: If one has to say it—

MOLLY WHITE: Hold on. I’m speaking.

REP. DAWNNA DUKES: If one has to say it, OK, then fine. To the world, I had an abortion. And I’m not a drug addict, and I’m not an alcoholic.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey Hons, if you could just tell us the scene here and who these women are.

JEFFREY HONS: Well, one of the women, Dawnna Dukes, she is a member of the House of Representatives in Texas, the Texas House. And the other woman, Miss White, is running for a seat in that same legislative body. And I think it goes to the same point we were talking about before, is that, you know, here it is, you know, one person is saying that—using her experiences with abortion to say something negative and disparaging about women who make this decision. And then there’s Representative Dawnna Dukes, who will stand up and say, “But not me.” And so, I admire her courage, and I think it’s great. And then, at the same time, I wish women could have the complete privacy that they deserve for this healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lindsay Rodriguez, can you talk about how people are fighting back right now? What are the prospects for this legislation to continue?

LINDSAY RODRIGUEZ: Sure. I can definitely say that since we’ve seen the showdown in the Capitol last summer, I’ve seen more activism and organization than I’ve ever seen in my history here in Texas. Organizations working together, we formed a lot of coalitions to share information, to share stories, to share resources. The unfortunate thing is that whoever gets put into office in this particular election—and I would definitely say that we would like people that support abortion access—but it’s going to take a while for these laws to be able to fall away and for us to rebuild the support network that’s been chipped away from decades of just cutting at the support network that we have here in Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey Hons, is this going to mean more later-term abortions?

JEFFREY HONS: I think absolutely. And that’s the part that makes me so upset. If a woman is going to make this decision, why shouldn’t she have access to the care at the earliest possible time? But by reducing the number of facilities, by making it more expensive, by creating these hurdles, all that’s going to happen is that women are going to seek abortion care later and later in pregnancy. And then also we think about how many resources are now going to have to go towards abortion care that otherwise could have been spent providing the family planning, the birth control, that people want and need to avoid becoming pregnant at times they do not want to be. This makes no sense. It is bad policy. It is bad medicine.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a place like Midland. What, it’s like five hours from San Antonio?

JEFFREY HONS: Yeah, Midland’s about five hours away.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s where you would have to come, to San Antonio, to have an abortion?


AMY GOODMAN: But it’s not only getting here. Isn’t there a 24-hour waiting period?

JEFFREY HONS: There are so many visits now that are required. It’s not like she’s just going to come and have an abortion and then go home. She has to come for an abortion with a 24-hour advance pre-operative visit, where she’s going to have to have a legislatively mandated vaginal probe ultrasound; she’s going to have to hear information that the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology has disagreed with; and then she’s going to have to listen to a detailed description of gestational development—as though she hasn’t thought about what she’s doing already. Then she comes back 24 hours later for the procedure. Then she comes back again 14 days later for a follow-up. And because of these new laws, all of those visits have to be by the exact same physician, not the same medical group. If we were three doctors or a physician and two nurse practitioners in a medical practice, you could not delegate to us the follow-up visit or an advance. You would have to do each of those visits yourself. That means multiple trips, multiple dollars, and a very difficult scheduling system to make sure women from faraway places, that have these long commutes, that all this is going to work for them.

Can I tell you one story about a woman who came here? Shortly after this law first started going into effect last fall, we had a woman who came from San Angelo, Texas, which is about a three-and-a-half-, four-hour drive. She had called, made an appointment at our facility. Everything’s set up. The day of her procedure, we then get a call from the bus station in downtown San Antonio. She didn’t know how to get to our facility, because she had run out of money. She came from a small rural town, and she didn’t know how much the bus fare was going to be. She didn’t understand what a cab fare could cost from downtown San Antonio to where we were. She was out of money. She had already spent all her money. So we sent someone to go pick her up. This is the kind of help that Lilith Fund and other places are bringing to women. But when you look at an individual story of a woman, I just—I am dumbfounded when I look at some of our lawmakers, who can hear these stories, and then it evokes no compassion in them for the situation of that woman.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, what kind of effect does this have on other access to family planning, the very kind of planning that could prevent abortions, that would make abortions rarer?

JEFFREY HONS: Well, before the Legislature passed this terrible new abortion bill, they spent the last two sessions gutting the state’s family planning resources—first the state family planning contracts, then a Medicaid expansion for family planning coverage. Both of those took huge legislative hits. And then, after gutting prevention, then they started attacking abortion, when the only thing that’s going to happen is that abortion will go up whenever there isn’t prevention. So it’s as though systematically, from a standpoint that says we care nothing about women and their healthcare, we’re going to go after them again and again. And I think it’s because it gets them votes. They can raise money around it in their political world and electoral cycles. And it fuels a right-wing push.

AMY GOODMAN: Lindsay Rodriguez, are you giving out more funds for abortions? And where do you get the money? Who contributes?

LINDSAY RODRIGUEZ: Sure. So, we are primarily run by individual donors, oftentimes very small donors, who give on a monthly basis $10 or $20, sometimes larger donors. But we gave out last year over $80,000 in direct assistance, and we’re on track this year to give out about $150,000 in direct assistance, which is wonderful, but we also are only able to fund about a third of the people that call our hotline because the need in Texas is so great. We are giving out larger amounts of money than we were last year because of the fact that the barriers have increased so much that people are having to pay a lot more to get to an abortion. They are having to generally wait a little bit longer because of the time it takes to get their logistics together. And the real issue when you look at a pregnancy going longer is that generally the abortion starts costing more the farther along it gets into it. So, oftentimes, people that are having a difficult time getting that very early abortion money together are then having a difficult time as it gets more expensive going on. So we are seeing that we’re giving out more money.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey, a Supreme Court appeal?

JEFFREY HONS: Well, that’s what the group that are the plaintiffs for this most recent lawsuit, that’s what they have asked for. They’ve sent a petition to the Supreme Court for a review. I don’t know what’s going to happen there. I think we’re all going to have to watch. There’s been too many surprises in the litigation around this that I’m just—I’m not willing to speculate what’s going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, and I thank you very much for being with us. Jeffrey Hons is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Texas, the last outpost for legal abortion before the Rio Grande Valley. And Lindsay Rodriguez is president of the Lilith Fund, which provides grants to Texans who need abortions but can’t afford them. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from TigerTV at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Stay with us.

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