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Texas Abortion Doctor: “When We Ban Abortion, It Doesn’t Stop the Need for People to Access Abortion”

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We look at the attack on reproductive rights in the United States, as the Department of Justice sues Texas over a new law that bans abortions after six weeks into a pregnancy. The law makes no exception for rape or incest and allows anyone in Texas to sue patients, medical workers or even a patient’s family or friends who “aid and abet” an abortion. “What we see time and time again is when we ban abortion, it doesn’t stop the need for people to access abortion,” says Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a staff physician at Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston, Texas.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to look at Texas’ near-total ban on abortions. Last week, the Department of Justice sued Texas over a new law which bars abortions around six weeks into a pregnancy, without an exception for rape or incest, and allows anyone in Texas to sue patients, medical workers or even a patient’s family or friends who so-called aid and abetted an abortion, like took someone to a women’s health clinic.

Over the weekend, a longtime physician in Texas revealed he has defied the law and provided an abortion in order to care for one of his patients. Dr. Alan Braid made the admission in an article for The Washington Post. He writes, quote, “I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care. I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”

Dr. Braid went on to recall how he was in medical school in 1972, a year before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling guaranteeing the right to a safe and legal abortion. Dr. Braid wrote, “At the hospital that year, I saw three teenagers die from illegal abortions. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972,” he said.

For more on the attack on reproductive rights in Texas, we’re joined by Dr. Bhavik Kumar, staff physician at Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston, Texas.

Dr. Kumar, welcome to Democracy Now! I’ve been reading so much about you, dedicated provider of trans care and abortion services. One article in OutSmart magazine began, “Growing up 'brown, gay, and marginalized' in a small Texas town inspired Houstonian Bhavik Kumar to become the activist and physician he is today.” How does your background relate to why you have taken such a strong stand against this almost total abortion ban in Texas?

DR. BHAVIK KUMAR: Yeah, I think my experience of oppression growing up in Texas and feeling it on so many fronts is the same thing that’s continuing to happen, whether it comes to folks trying to ban access to trans care or access to abortion. It’s relentless. It’s not helpful. And it’s just hurting people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Kumar, could you talk about some of the impact of this law on your patients already?

DR. BHAVIK KUMAR: Yeah. I think what we see, time and time again, is when we ban abortion, it doesn’t stop the need for people to access abortion. And some of what Dr. Braid talked about, about seeing people in the hospital when abortion is illegal, is exactly what we’re worried about. So, what we’re seeing on the ground right now, it’s been about three weeks since this law has been in effect, and, again, the need for abortion has not changed. It just means that now we’re helping people go out of state for the care that they need. And in other neighboring states, there are a number of restrictions that are in place, so there’s already a limit on the number of clinics that are available, and they’re already busy seeing people, as well. So, the need is there, but, unfortunately, people are now being forced to go out of state, and some people just can’t make it out of state. The logistics and the things that are required, the cost of going out of state is insurmountable for some people. And, of course, it’s always going to be the folks that are most low-income, people of color, young folks and people that are already dealing with layers of oppression.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you traveled in early September to Washington, to the White House, to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris on a roundtable of abortion providers. What’s your sense of how the administration is dealing with these efforts at the local, state level to turn back Roe v. Wade?

DR. BHAVIK KUMAR: Yeah. What we’ve seen over the last few decades is that abortion has really become a state-by-state issue, and depending on which state you live determines what kind of access you have to abortion, which is really unfair for each person that’s living in a state that has restrictive access, or in a state like Texas, where abortion is essentially inaccessible.

So, I was pleased to hear from the Biden-Harris administration that they have our backs, that they are supportive of the work that we do. And what we really need is the federal government to step in and codify Roe, to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and make sure that our rights are protected under federal law. And that way, we don’t have a state-by-state access-inaccess sort of mosaic that’s taken place.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Kumar, do you have numbers? You talked about, you know, oh, clinics shutting down in Texas and this key point that you raise: You have to go out of state — impossible for so many women, particularly low-income women. This particularly hurts the Black and Brown communities. So, essentially, has abortion ended in Texas, the home state of Roe v. Wade?

DR. BHAVIK KUMAR: It essentially has, yeah. There are very few patients that we can take care of. What we know is roughly 10% of folks may qualify for an abortion in Texas, based on not having cardiac motion. And this is the first time that a law like this has been passed. And so, again, it’s only been a couple of weeks, but we’re seeing roughly about that. Maybe 10% of people that we typically see are still able to get an abortion in Texas. But the rest of the folks, the vast majority, we’re trying to help them navigate care out of state. And some people are able to make it. And some people, we know, and they leave our clinic saying, “I’m not going to be able to do that. I’m not going to be able to take the time off. I have no one to watch my kids,” or, for whatever reason, going out of state is just not an option. It’s not possible for them to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, final words from the state of Texas? There was a cartoon going around that said, “Why didn’t anyone predict the Taliban takeover of Texas sooner?” a play on the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan sooner. But where you see this going, with the Department of Justice lawsuit, how you see this ban being lifted, or do you?

DR. BHAVIK KUMAR: Well, I mean, I think, in response to what some folks are saying, you know, I’ve seen the hashtag #TexasTaliban. This has nothing to do with the Taliban, right? This is white, conservative. It’s Christian essentialism that’s taken over. And it’s not what the people want in Texas. The vast majority are supportive of abortion. But, unfortunately, the people in power are pushing their agenda forward.

So, I think what we know from centuries of humanity is that people will always need access to abortion. I am hopeful that one of these lawsuits will prevail and people will have access again. But it’s going to take some time, and it’s unfortunate that people’s fundamental rights are being debated in a court and debated in public while people are suffering.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much, Dr. Bhavik Kumar, staff physician at Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston, Texas.

When we come back in 30 seconds, we look at the deadly consequences of vaccine inequality. Will India follow up on rights groups who say that the Johnson & Johnson vaccines that are being made for the world in India should not go to the United States and other European countries? Stay with us.

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