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The Impact Of The Strict New Abortion Law In Texas

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The new anti-abortion law in Texas has generated an unprecedented level of fear and anxiety for both providers and abortion-seekers in the state. It stipulates that if anyone assists someone who tries to get an abortion after six weeks, or even considers assisting them, they can be sued in civil court. Here's NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Last month, 23-year-old K.T., who lives in the San Antonio area, discovered they'd accidentally gotten pregnant. NPR is not using K.T.'s full name to protect medical and legal privacy. A single nurse with a full-time job who's also still in school, K.T. was not ready to have a child. But the timing couldn't have been worse because Texas' new abortion bill, known as SB8, was about to become law.

K T: I needed to have an abortion, and unfortunately, all the clinics were completely booked because, like, other people knew that, like, SB8 was coming. And I did the math, and I definitely was, like, on that cusp of, like, five to six weeks. It was just a very nerve-wracking experience, knowing that, like, literally days before something went into effect, like, my access was already taken away from me.

GOODWYN: Eventually, K.T. managed to get medication abortion pills before the six weeks were up.

K T: Yeah, I'm doing, honestly, completely great. I actually just met with my therapist yesterday, and we had a really long conversation about how I was feeling. And, like, everybody that I work with, gives me, like, a lot of support, and I'm really thankful.

AMNA DERMISH: I think the women seeking abortion are actually the targets.

GOODWYN: Dr. Amna Dermish is the regional medical director for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

DERMISH: Yes, as someone who could potentially provide assistance to a person seeking an abortion beyond six weeks, I would be liable for a lawsuit.

GOODWYN: The law says the doctor could be sued by an infinite number of plaintiffs, but it's her patients she fears for.

DERMISH: People are losing access to abortion care, and this is happening in the middle of a raging pandemic. You know, COVID has not abated in many places, including Texas. It is worse than it has ever been. And yet we are banning people from accessing care close to home, and we're forcing them to seek care out of state.

GOODWYN: In fact, it seems there have been no lawsuits because abortion providers are obeying the law. When it went into effect on the 1, the law already generated a wave of fear and anxiety that's flowed through abortion providers and seekers. Women's health clinics saw a drop in their number of patients. Dr. Dermish says it's just over two weeks in, and she already has a bevy of stories of women wiping away tears and teens curling up in her office chair.

DERMISH: I would invite any of these legislators to come and sit in the clinic with me and listen to my patients' stories. And why don't you be the one to tell them that they can't have an abortion? Because it feels supremely unfair that it has to be, you know, me and my clinic's staff. It's cruel. It is cruel for all of us involved.

GOODWYN: Texas is so geographically large, just getting abortion-seekers to Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, even Louisiana, can be no small feat.

NEESHA DAVE: Senate Bill 8 has been absolutely devastating.

GOODWYN: Neesha Dave is the active executive director at the Lilith Fund, which helps fund patients seeking an abortion but are fiscally unable.

DAVE: A report from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project predicted that something like 85% of Texans who needed to access abortion care would not be able to under Senate Bill 8. And from what we have seen, from the people calling our hotline, that - that is accurate. The vast majority of people who need access to abortion care are now being forced to confront traveling out of state.

GOODWYN: But some abortion-seekers cannot travel out of state because of their jobs and they have children to care for, or they're underage and have parents who will resist, or they are undocumented, live along the Texas-Mexico border and can't get past the Border Patrol checkpoints. The future of abortion access in Texas is currently unknowable. Lawsuits are pending in state and federal courts, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have, thus far, sided with Texas.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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