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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

In 2010 nearly 4,000 unintended pregnancies were averted in the San Antonio region as a result of state health family planning funding; after the removal of funds, the figure was reduced to less than half, according to TxPEP.

Dr. Janet Realini, president of Healthy Futures Texas and chair of the Texas Women’s Health Coalition, understands the city’s healthcare needs. She previously served as medical director of family planning at San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District where she crafted the City’s teen pregnancy prevention program. Realini says although the city is relatively fortunate in terms of the number of institutions where low-income women can go to receive healthcare, access to basic family planning was a struggle even before the cuts. The blow to health funds immediately affected providers like the University Health System, which had to limit the number of patients from 10,000 to 2,300 after the cuts, said Realini in an interview.

“I think it’s concerning that it’s been harder to get appointments than it was before,” said Realini. “But we hope to see it improve with additional resources coming into the community.”

Her coalition is currently pressing the Department of State Health Services to ensure the $100 million allotted for family planning through primary care funding during the regular Legislative session does, indeed, restore women’s healthcare.

Lawsuit on the Horizon

Texas is among the several states nationwide that have passed severely restrictive abortion legislation. In the first six months of 2013 alone, legislators enacted 45 laws meant to restrict abortion access in the country—a figure higher than the total number in 2012, according to Guttmacher. Anti-choice groups like Americans United for Life, who handily draft model legislation for lawmakers, took full advantage of the legislative sweep, even overtly taking credit for bills in Texas. Denise Burke, vice president of legal affairs for AUL and a resident of San Antonio, explicitly stated the bill used language developed by her organization in a July newspaper editorial.

“This bill is model legislation identical to bills in other states,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “It shows that women’s health and safety is a complete front. Lawmakers could not point to one concrete reason of how the changes would make things safer, but we do know the effect. The main intent of this bill is to make abortion inaccessible.”

Abortion rights proponents hope an expected legal injunction halts the bill’s implementation. With precedent on their side, Hagstrom Miller and the Center for Reproductive Rights are currently formulating a case to impede the restrictions. But while all four parts of Texas’ bill have been challenged in other courts around the country—from Arizona to Alabama—they did not appear in front of the notoriously conservative and largely anti-choice U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. “It’s no secret that anti-abortion folks really want it to be challenged in the Fifth Circuit,” said Hagstrom Miller.

In the meantime, longtime providers like Minto brace for certain closure.

“I suspect that we’ll see so many girls, so desperate when pregnancy happens they’ll do anything—anything,” said Minto. “Throughout history when things are prohibited people still find a way to do it.”

Minto understands that providing the kind of care he’s offered for more than 30 years may soon be all but illegal. “There will be an underground network,” he predicted, “and I will be part of it.”

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