Texas women seeking abortions after 6 weeks have few out-of-state options

In Texas, abortions have all but ended after a late-night decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that kept in effect a new state law banning the procedure once a fetal heartbeat is detected, about 6 weeks into a pregnancy. While abortion rights advocates try to figure out their next legal step, anti-abortion activists are preparing for their role as enforcers of the new law. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the state of Texas, abortions have all but ended after a late-night decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that kept in effect a new state law banning the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

    John Yang has more on how advocates on both sides are responding in the Lone Star State.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, many of Texas' 24 abortion providers say they are obeying the new law while abortion rights advocates try to figure out their next legal step.

    At the Whole Woman's Health clinic in Fort Worth, the last procedure ended at 11:56 Tuesday night, with more than two dozen women in the waiting room.

    Meanwhile, anti-abortion activists are preparing for their role as enforcers of the new law.

    Ashley Lopez is a reporter covering health care and politics at NPR station KUT in Austin.

    Ashley, thanks for being with us.

    What are you hearing from the anti-abortion activists in Texas? They have succeed in essentially stopping abortion in their state. What are they saying?

  • Ashley Lopez, KUT:

    Well, they're obviously celebrating. This is a big deal for them, a big victory.

    They were hoping — the long-term plan was to get a law into effect. So many times, when a state puts an abortion ban into place, it is blocked by the courts, especially if it's an unconstitutional law.

    And in this case, they were able to pretty much avoid and invade one of those court blocks. So, for them, this is a pretty monumental achievement.

    Our lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, sent out a statement today where he said he hopes other states follow this model. This could be a framework for other states to copy, if they want to have a restrictive abortion ban in place and in full effect.

  • John Yang:

    And, of course, the reason why they were able to avoid the court blocking the law is, they put the enforcement in the hands of private citizens.

    It specifically bans public officials from getting involved in this. How are they preparing to play that role of the enforcers, the anti-abortion activists? How are they preparing for that?

  • Ashley Lopez:

    Well, anti-abortion groups here — I'm thinking specifically Texas Right to Life, because it's one of the bigger organizations here — say they already have the manpower, even before this law went into effect.

    They didn't really have to staff up. They put up a Web site weeks ago, kind of like a tip line, for people to send in tips when they think someone has violated the ban. And they say they have a vast network in the state of volunteers and professionals, people and lawyers, people ready to jump in and take on these cases.

    So they say they're ready if they hear that someone has broken the law, that they're ready to step in, and they have the resources to do it and have had the resources to do it, because I — for a long time, anti-abortion activists in the state have kind of viewed themselves as an entity to hold abortion clinics accountable in the state.

    So they see this as just an extension of their work, just now codified in law.

  • John Yang:

    On the other side of this, I know that, today, you went around to some abortion providers. What did you see? What did you hear?

  • Ashley Lopez:

    I mean, there is a lot of frustration and sadness among people who work in abortion clinics, that they see it that their job is to help people in need of an abortion. This is what they do. So they feel like they can't keep — they can't help the people they want help.

    And, already — I visited one clinic, and, as of that morning — I was there around 11:00 a.m. — they had seen 11 people, and were only able to schedule three people for an actual procedure. So, the other eight had to be turned away. And they tell me those conversations are tough.

    A lot of people don't really pay attention to the news as closely as probably you and I do. So they probably woke up Wednesday morning not knowing they had fewer abortion rights than they did the day before. So coming into a clinic was probably a big surprise for them and finding out that they were out of time.

    And abortion — an abortion provider told me that he was actually pretty stunned at how few people knew this was coming down the pike. So it's a lot of frustration and sadness. And even, despite all this, I have heard staff members say they plan to wait this all out as long as they can. They are committed to this work.

    So there's also a bit of resolve there too.

  • John Yang:

    Are there efforts to get people, to get women who are seeking abortions, to get them out of state, to get procedures done elsewhere?

  • Ashley Lopez:

    Yes, that is something that has been widely reported, which is that there are group — there abortion clinics in New Mexico, for example, ready and willing to take these patients.

    I think what's important to remember is that that also could be a very small amount of women, small number of women who are able to drive out of state to get those services. Texas is bordered by largely conservative states, for the exception of New Mexico. Louisiana is not a place where it's easy to get an abortion.

    So, depending where you drive, this could be nine hours for some people. Texas is a big state. So, depending where you live in the state, it could be an almost insurmountable barrier to get over.

    But, yes, that is one of the options women have, if they find themselves in a situation where they're past that six-week mark.

  • John Yang:

    Ashley Lopez of NPR station KUT in Texas, thank you very much.

  • Ashley Lopez:

    Thank you.

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