Austin, Texas – When Trisha * found out she was pregnant in May of last year, the nearest abortion provider was over 482 km (300 miles) away in Fort Worth, Texas.
The 27-year-old told Al Jazeera she didn’t feel comfortable discussing her options with anyone in her hometown or her conservative family – so at nearly eight weeks pregnant, she’s almost eight weeks pregnant. went to the abortion clinic.
After spending $ 150 on gasoline to get to Fort Worth, she cried alone in the parking lot of a Whole Woman’s Health apartment building before entering to request the procedure.
“It breaks my heart to know that there are people in my community and in my family who would dehumanize women who seek these services without knowing the circumstances,” she said. “There are other people who are in a place of fear and uncertainty with no privilege or resources to find a way out.”
Now, after Texas passed the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, Trisha said she may have had to make a different choice if the law had been in place when it needed help. ‘an abortion. “Between having to spend even more money traveling out of state and getting a hotel room, and recruiting someone to come with me, I may have tried to induce at home,” he said. she declared.
The Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 8 in May, with supporters calling it a “measure to protect the lives of unborn children.”
Many reproductive rights advocates speculated that the law would be blocked in court as similar legislation had been in the past. But the United States Supreme Court refused to act in August, and in October, a court injunction that suspended the law was quickly overturned after Texas appealed for it to be reinstated.
This means that the legislation, which effectively prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and allows any citizen to sue anyone who provides or assists with abortion services, is in force. Yet the blanket ban on abortion services has not stopped patients from seeking help.
Many still show up in clinics, assuming the media has exaggerated or misunderstood the law, said Marva Sadler, director of clinical operations at Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider that operates four clinics across. Texas.
But clinics, bound by the new law, are forced to turn people away. “They come with a silver lining that we can help them,” Sadler told Al Jazeera. “There’s a moment of shock, of disbelief that it really is a thing – then a moment of panic about what to do next.”
A similar sentiment struck Jessy Lieck, a 30-year-old law student in Lubbock, Texas.
“Once SB8 went into effect, I panicked, as I’m sure a lot of people did,” Lieck said. “If my birth control fails or if I’m raped and it’s been over six weeks, I’m going to be forced to carry a rapist’s child, which is incredibly traumatic.
For years Lieck has sought tubal ligation surgery to avoid pregnancy, but even that is difficult to get in Texas, where doctors have told him they prefer to operate on older women who already have children. Faced with the SB8, his search became urgent. She found a doctor who approved the procedure, scheduled for early December.
“I recognize the privilege I have of having good health insurance thanks to my university, financial stability and access to educational resources,” she said. “The others are not so lucky.
Series of laws
SB8 is just Texas’ latest law restricting access to abortion.
In 2012, the state legislature imposed an ultrasound and a 24-hour wait time before patients could officially opt for the procedure. A year later, it took formal legal agreements with local hospitals for abortion clinics to function, forcing most facilities in the state to close. And in 2017, it banned most primary health insurance policies from covering abortion services.
But the battle for reproductive rights in Texas portends a larger nation-wide fight. Opponents of abortion services have long declared their intention to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 United States Supreme Court ruling that established a woman’s right to terminate their pregnancy.
Former US President Donald Trump promoted the idea of removing Roe v Wade by appointing three Conservative High Court judges during his tenure.
But even in Texas, where the current battle over reproductive rights dates back years, the idea seemed far-fetched to activists until August 31. That night, Diana Gomez was sitting refreshing the United States Supreme Court’s website.
Gomez, communications director for rights group Progress Texas, had seen SB8 go through committees to pass the state legislature in May, but she said she expected the Supreme Court to take measures before the bill came into force, just as it has done for other states. level of abortion restrictions.
“Once it hit midnight, it became the first incident where the Supreme Court did not apply Roe v Wade as a precedent,” Gomez told Al Jazeera, of the entry into force of SB8 . “It was one of the first highs of a possibly gruesome future in which Roe v Wade is knocked down.”
In December, the nation’s highest court will hear a Mississippi case over a 15-week abortion ban that could overthrow Roe v Wade, paving the way for abortion bans by other states.
Yet whatever decision is made in this case, the success of SB8 is likely to spur other states to push forward with legislation blocking or restricting abortion services. Such a bill is already advancing in Florida. “It’s not just Texas that wants to get through this, it’s a coordinated effort,” Gomez said.
For now, Texans seeking abortion services must rely on about 10 nonprofits that offer financial assistance to help them travel out of state. But the volume of requests is more than many groups can handle.
One such group, Fund Texas Choice, said it receives 10 to 15 calls per week from people seeking financial help to terminate their pregnancies before Texas law comes into effect. After September 1, the number of calls increased to 15 per day.
Previously, the organization provided between $ 500 and several thousand dollars for each patient to access services. Now everyone needs about $ 1,000 more to cover travel, accommodation and food costs on their out-of-state trip.
“The need has increased and clearly we cannot meet that need,” said Anna Rupani, executive director of Fund Texas Choice. “It’s not sustainable.”
She said over 65% of Fund Texas Choice’s clients are people of color who most often tend to be economically disadvantaged. This means they face greater financial challenges raising a child or traveling out of state to terminate a pregnancy.
“Most of the people who seek abortion services are people who are already struggling to make ends meet, usually blacks, natives and people of color,” Rupani said.
Aimee Arrambide, executive director of Avow Texas, a reproductive rights group, echoed this. “With the law, combined with the confusion, combined with the lack of resources, thousands of people in Texas will be forced to carry pregnancies against their will,” she said.
* Interviewee spoke to Al Jazeera using a pseudonym due to privacy concerns