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Texas Abortion Providers Fear They May Not Survive New Regulations



Dr. Lester Minto at his clinic in Harlingen, which provides preventative care as well as abortions

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Protestors outside of Reproductive Services of Harlingen

The expensive upgrades—while wise for moderately complex surgery—are medically unnecessary in an abortion setting, says Hagstrom Miller. Abortion procedures usually last about 10 minutes, are performed under local anesthesia and no incision takes place, removing the need for costly retrofitting like larger operating rooms, janitor closets, locker rooms, wide hallways and additional airflow systems. For instance, a woman would not be wheeled in on a stretcher for such a procedure, making an 8-foot hallway far from essential.

Hagstrom Miller says clinics would have to shell out up to $1.4 million ($250-300 per square foot) for facility changes and upwards of $3 million to construct a new building. Whole Woman’s Health pays a hefty $40,000 a month in overhead costs to maintain its ASC—price points mostly out of reach for the smaller abortion clinics that dominate the state.

“The vast majority of people that provide abortion are small, independent providers who are community-based,” said Hagstrom Miller on the phone from her Austin headquarters. “They don’t have the money or the fundraising power to be an ASC.”

“The law is very well crafted to shut us down,” she said.

Independent, local providers like Minto’s Reproductive Services of Harlingen clinic have calculated the immense price. It would cost at least $750,000 to turn his center into an ASC. “There’s just not that much business, there’s not that much money. People are poor in the Valley,” he lamented. Even clinics with fundraising muscle and national recognition can’t guarantee they’ll stay open. Of the three Planned Parenthood abortion centers in San Antonio, none are ASCs. Mara Posada, communications director with Planned Parenthood of South Texas, says leadership is at the drawing board strategizing a plan to ensure services go uninterrupted. “We’re not sure what it’s going to look like, we’re still figuring it out,” she said.

While medical providers insist clinics will certainly shutter, conservative lawmakers, with no concrete proof, continually refuted the assertions and downplayed the law’s impact on abortion care. “There is nothing in this legislation that would close down an abortion facility,” said vocal anti-choice state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) several times during Senate debate as well on national television. “If an abortion facility closes, it’s going to be because the millions of dollars that’s in the abortion industry is putting profit over a person.”

But lawmakers need only examine the not so distant past. A similar bill passed in 2004 required all abortions after 16 weeks to be performed at an ASC. Prior to the legislation, there were at least 20 different abortion providers that offered care after 16 weeks—once that bill was enacted there were none. It remained that way for some two and a half years. “Nobody in the state could build that quickly, or could retrofit their facility, so from 2004 until halfway through 2006, you couldn’t get an abortion at 16 weeks in the state of Texas,” said Hagstrom Miller, despite its complete legality under Roe v. Wade.

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