Planned Parenthood is located at 920 San Pedro Ave.
Following the passage of Senate Bill 8, Planned Parenthood of South Texas has paused abortions across the region. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Local access to abortion services diminished by one-third when Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio ceased operations, leaving two providers in the nation’s seventh-largest city.

Representatives with the privately owned provider said a 40-percent decline in patient volume at its San Antonio clinic prompted the closure of its Southeast Side office after treating its last patient on Dec. 13.

“We had seen a decline in our [San Antonio] patient volume in the last couple years that we didn’t see in our other clinics,” said Andrea Ferrigno, corporate vice president of Whole Woman’s Health, whose website lists seven clinics in five states. “There are two other pretty large and fabulous providers, and I think we know that there will be access to good abortion care in San Antonio.”

Planned Parenthood South Texas and Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services continue to operate in San Antonio. They are two of 20 abortion clinics that remain open in Texas, less than half the number from just a few years ago.

“Whole Woman’s Health has been a heroic advocate and provider of women’s health,” said Mara Posada, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Texas. “We regret that the state of Texas has made it increasingly difficult for providers of abortion care to be here for women who need them. Abortion is health care and health care should be accessible.”

Ferrigno said while a decline in patient volume prompted the local closure, “the need for abortion access is never going to go away.”

“What changes is how people get access to those services,” she said. “Our decision to close the San Antonio location stems from the stricter regulatory landscape we have seen across the state for the last few years that disproportionately affected smaller providers. The regulations make it more difficult to access care and increases the cost of the services, making it unsustainable.”

Whole Woman’s Health was the lead plaintiff against House Bill 2, Texas’ 2013 law requiring abortion providers to employ physicians with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and adhere to standards found in ambulatory surgical centers. In June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the abortion restrictions in Texas were unconstitutional because they would shut down most clinics in the state and cause “undue burden” for Texas women to access safe, legal abortions.

“After we won the [Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt] case, we still haven’t been able to restore access to care in Texas. And that’s not just specific to Whole Woman’s Health. Before this case, there were about 42 clinics in the state, and once the bill was enacted, throughout the litigation process, we ended up with just 10 clinics in Texas,” Ferrigno said. “It continues to be incredibly difficult for independent providers to keep their doors open.”

Abortions in Texas dropped 14 percent – from 64,000 in 2013 to 55,000 in 2014 – according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. But Ferrigno said “many factors are part of this decline.”

“A lot of that is that there was a 50 percent decline in clinics,” she said.

Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, said his organization is “pleased to see the [facility] close.”

“It was a very poorly run facility, as are all Whole Woman’s Health providers in Texas,” Pojman said, referring to Whole Woman’s locations in Austin, Fort Worth, and McAllen. “Their most recent health inspection reports were very troubling, showing the [provider] was unable to keep track of its narcotics properly. They failed to provide information to women about where to find help if they have complications, and they failed to sterilize instruments properly.”

Pojman said the decrease in abortions could also have to do with the availability of “compassionate alternatives to abortion in Bexar County,” such as adoption and pro-life resource centers.

“There are still two large abortion facilities in San Antonio to provide all the abortions that women want without the Whole Woman’s Health abortion facility,” he said. “It really is true that a place like Whole Woman’s Health is not necessary for a woman to receive her health care.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.