Sarah McCammon / MediaFrolic
The day before a federal judge blocked enforcement of Texas’s restrictive new abortion law, Hope Medical Group for Women’s parking lot in Shreveport, LA was filled with Texas license plates. Women held the door open as the snake spilled onto the sidewalk and into the grass.
“I drove 6 hours and 58 minutes,” said M. from Corpus Christi, who refused to give her full name for reasons of data protection. “I got here this morning at 8:55 am. So I haven’t eaten, we can’t bring anything to drink. My friend is sleeping in the car.”
M. is 20 years old and a student. She says she worked double shifts on her service job all weekend to be able to afford the trip.
“When we find out [about the pregnancy] … I was five weeks and five days, “she said. “So I thought, okay, I can, I’m under six weeks and so. But it had a heartbeat. “According to Texas Senate Bill 8, no clinic in the state could perform an abortion at this point in pregnancy.
So she and her friend told their family that they were going to “take a little trip” and drove through the night to have their first consultation with Hope Medical. She says her parents wouldn’t support her decision, but she knows it’s the right one for her.
“I feel like I’m mentally unstable, financially unstable right now,” said M .. “It was really, really a tough decision. I just feel like it was a really big life changing thing that I did think I couldn’t get through it right now. “
Louisiana law also sets strict abortion requirements
For Texan women like M., Louisiana has become an unlikely replacement plan for abortion services. And no one is more surprised than Hope Medical Clinic director Kathaleen Pittman. In between answering a phone that barely stopped ringing all morning, Pittman said the fight for reproductive rights in Louisiana is an ongoing battle.
“It’s kind of ironic, really,” she said. “Because apart from SB 8, our rules are so horrible.”
Currently, Louisiana law allows surgical abortions for up to 20 weeks (5 months) after the onset of pregnancy. The state also requires mandatory ultrasounds, state counseling that may deter an abortion, and a 24-hour wait before the procedure can be performed – a procedure that requires two separate appointments.
“We mix up a lot and try to rearrange ourselves,” she says. “We have increased our hours of consultation days to try and accommodate as much as possible.”
The same week that SB 8 was enacted, Hurricane Ida struck the southern Louisiana coast. Clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge were closed for several weeks, which resulted in increased demand for Pittman and their staff. And they’re still struggling to absorb the surge, especially as Texan clinics are figuring out what to do.
“Texas law allows people to sue abortion providers retrospectively, even if the law is temporarily suspended, as it is now,” said Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, a nonprofit advocating access to abortion begins. “I think this can make it difficult for some clinics and some providers to feel safe caring for people with pregnancies after the sixth week.”
SB 8 enables individuals to file lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone else involved in illegal abortions in Texas. Penalties for violations start at $ 10,000. And that provision has made it harder to challenge this law because it’s harder to know who to turn to for preventive legal action – there everyone can sue.
At the moment, this federal decision basically instructs state officials not to have anything to do with enforcing SB 8. The state of Texas said it would appeal.
Meanwhile, calls to several clinics in Texas had long waits and a message on hold saying they were still on SB 8.
“Our facility will not be able to perform abortions for patients who have pregnancies with detectable embryonic or fetal heart activity that typically begins 6 weeks after the person’s last menstrual period,” said the automated message for the Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas.
Traveling far for an abortion adds to the financial burden
Sherie, a nurse at Hope Medical, who also does not give her full name for privacy and legal reasons, sees the whole thing as “unnecessary hardship” for so many families, especially when they have to travel long distances.
“I don’t know how you do it,” said Sherie. “Because the payment itself is a very large lump sum. That is the people’s rent, their car, maybe their purchases for the month, the work, the travel, the expenses.”
And the stigma surrounding abortion can be both emotionally and financially stressful. Sherie says a lot of fathers can’t or won’t contribute to the cost. Like M., families cannot be supportive or just grope in the dark. Without being able to seek help from loved ones, many people take out expensive loans or sell personal items.
Even then, Louisiana’s strict abortion laws prevent the clinic from helping everyone. An available appointment may be too late for the 20 week mark. And in a state consistently faced with one of the highest poverty and maternal mortality rates in the country, the prospect of continuing a pregnancy is more than uncomfortable.
Sherie, the nurse, was herself a patient at this clinic 30 years ago. She said she couldn’t imagine what she would have done if Hope Medical hadn’t been able to help her back then. So she feels the pain of the patients when she has to tell them they can’t get the procedure.
“Seeing the look on your face – it’s hard,” said Sherie. “Sometimes you just want to cry with them.”
Hope clinicians said one of the most pressing concerns when talking to a desperate patient is making sure they are not resorting to anything dangerous. Pittman says she is always concerned that women might injure themselves or try dangerous self-induced abortion methods.
The most far-reaching result of these legal hurdles and restrictions, however, is that many children are born to parents who cannot afford them or are unwilling to raise them.
“My main concern is the extreme poverty that we will experience,” she said. “If people do not have access to care one way or another, they will have larger families that will be difficult to take care of.”
When M. went to the clinic for her appointment, she said she knew her family would have questions when she and her boyfriend get home in a few days. “On the other hand, it’s like I’m already living my own life,” she said to herself more than anyone else.
Pittman said she was working hard to protect that choice. And even with SB 8’s legal residence there is always a dark cloud hanging over her work.
When her phone continued to ring with hopeful patients from Texas and her hurricane-ravaged home state, she turned and read aloud a poster hanging on her office wall. An artist did it for her a few years ago and quoted Pittman himself:
“The Louisiana coast is not eroding nearly as quickly as a woman’s right to choose her own outcome.”