“What am I supposed to do?”
This is was what a patient asked one of our nurses after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared that Governor Abbott’s March 22 executive order included a ban on nearly all abortions. It is clear to me, and to many Texans, that politicians are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to advance their anti-abortion agenda, effectively denying women their constitutional right to abortion.
As our staff call our patients to let them know we can’t see them, we hear the helplessness on the other end of the line. Tears are common. As difficult as it is for our staff to have to explain to women that abortions are now inaccessible in Texas, imagine what it must be like to be a woman who has just been told that, in the midst of everything else she’s going through, everything else she may have lost or may fear losing in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has now also lost control over her reproductive future.
One patient drove more than 100 miles to access medication abortion, only to learn about the ban when she arrived at our health center the day it was announced. Other women were traveling from Lubbock, Waco, and other cities across Texas to access abortion care at our health centers. At least two women have said they have no other option but to continue their pregnancy.
On March 25, Planned Parenthood and other organizations filed an emergency lawsuit in federal court to lift this unconstitutional ban. And while a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on March 30 allowing abortion to continue in Texas, it was short lived. On March 31, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision – meaning that once again, abortion is out of reach for Texans.
Abortion care is essential, time-sensitive health care. Texas lawmakers argue, incorrectly, that abortion care will deplete the supply of personal protective equipment needed to care for COVID-19 patients. Physicians providing abortion during this time “are demonstrating a clear disregard for Texans suffering from this medical crisis,” said Paxton in response to the lawsuit. I believe it is Paxton and Gov. Abbott who are demonstrating a clear disregard for women wanting to access essential health care during a difficult time. These politicians are exploiting a global pandemic for political reasons. It is wrong and dangerous.
Medical experts including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology have said that they do not support COVID-19 responses that cancel or delay abortion procedures. “Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care,” they wrote in a public statement. “It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”
As I write this, we have 144 patients in our San Antonio health centers alone waiting to find out whether the order will be lifted so they can get the care they need. Some call every day for updates, but in some cases, these women have now progressed too far in their pregnancies to access care at our health centers. These women have had their bodily autonomy stripped from them. Planned Parenthood staff is referring patients to clinics in Colorado and New Mexico, but many patients can’t afford to travel, and some of those clinics now have long waiting lists.
This fight is not over. When it comes to our patients, we won’t back down. My request is simple. If you agree with me that women should be able to access reproductive health care during this crisis and at any time, please consider calling Gov. Abbott at 512-213-6763 and tell him to end this political ploy and restore women’s constitutionally protected rights.