by Sean Murphy
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — A 33-year-old Texas woman went alone for four hours at night to go to a Louisiana abortion clinic for a consultation. She initially planned to sleep in her car, but an advocacy group helped arrange a hotel room.
Unmarried and with three children aged 5 to 13, she worried that adding one child now would take time, food, money and space away from her three children. She doesn’t have a job, and without the help of groups offering safe abortions, she said, she probably would have found another way to terminate her pregnancy.
“If you can’t get rid of the baby, what are you going to do next? You’re going to try to get rid of it yourself. So I’m thinking: ‘What could I do? Get rid of this baby, get an abortion. What home remedies can I do to get an abortion?’ And it shouldn’t be like that. I shouldn’t do that. I shouldn’t think like that, feel like that, nothing like that.
“We have to be heard. This has to change. This is not right.”
She was one of more than a dozen women who arrived on Saturday at the Hope Medical Group for Women, a single-story brick building with covered windows just south of downtown Shreveport. Some came alone. Had a friend or a partner with others. Some brought their own children because they could not get child care.
All were seeking termination of pregnancies, and most were from neighboring Texas, where the country’s most restrictive abortion law is in effect. Once cardiac activity is detected, after about six weeks, it precludes a miscarriage before many women know they are pregnant. It makes no exception for rape or incest. As a result, abortion clinics in the surrounding states are flooded with Texas women.
The women agreed to speak to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity so they could open up about their experiences.
Like many others, the 33-year-old Texas mother said she tried to have an abortion close to home, but she was too far away. By the time she reached the clinic for an abortion on Saturday, she was only nine weeks old and had to undergo a surgical abortion instead of taking medication. She said the ordeal made her angry with Texas politicians who passed the law.
“If I had to have this baby, it wouldn’t have been told what would have happened. I would probably go crazy, and they don’t understand it,” she said, her voice filled with emotion.
A 25-year-old woman traveled 70 miles south of Texarkana, on the border of Texas and Arkansas. She said she was already five weeks along before she realized she was pregnant, and she knew it would be impossible to schedule the two visits needed to a Texas clinic. By the time she was able to make an appointment at Shreveport, her pregnancy was almost too advanced for a drug abortion.
“Luckily I found out when I did, because even then I was able to take the pill instead of surgery,” she said.
While she was at the clinic, her husband waited for hours in the car with their young son, who is a toddler and still breastfeeding. There was no one to see them.
Texas law has been bouncing between courts for weeks. The Biden administration again urged the courts on Monday to suspend it. The effort came three days after a federal appeals court reinstated the law following a lower court ruling, which last week created a brief 48-hour window in which Texas abortion providers arrived again to bring patients.
The anti-abortion campaign that fueled the law aims to reach the US Supreme Court, where abortion opponents hope the conservative coalition assembled under President Donald Trump will end the constitutional right to abortion established by the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling .
As most of the women entered the parking lot of the clinic, they were met by anti-abortion protesters, mostly from East Texas, who regularly travel to Shreveport.
John Powers, 44, a machinist from Jacksonville, Texas, said he typically drives for about two hours twice a month, with the goal that any woman might change her mind. In the 13 years he has been protesting outside clinics, he says he has convinced two women not to go through with their abortions, which he calls a “change.”
“I wouldn’t say it happens a lot,” said Powers, who has six children and supports any law that makes it harder for women to get an abortion. “Suppose I don’t have another change, that a kid who can now grow up and get married and have kids of his own, go to school and maybe become a journalist. It’ll be worth it, Would easily be worth it to me.”
Once inside the clinic, women are welcomed by staff members who provide reassurance and understanding. The director of the clinic placed his hand around a woman while leading her to the back of the clinic. In one corner of the waiting room a television is connected to Black Entertainment Television. A separate “chill room” with soft music and large leather sofas gives patients a chance to relax before their procedure.
The stories of many women are troubling for Kathleen Pittman, a clinic administrator who began working at an abortion clinic 30 years ago. She said she recently spoke to a mother in Texas trying to get an abortion for her 13-year-old daughter, who was sexually assaulted.
“He’s a kid,” Pittman said. “He should not have been on the road for hours to reach here. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”
Before the Texas law came into force, Pittman said, about 20% of his clients were from Texas, mostly the eastern part of the state, closer to the three-state area called Arc-la-Tex, of about 1.5 million people, of Shreveport. with its geographical center. Now that number is closer to 60%, and women commute hundreds of miles from Austin, Houston or San Antonio.
About 55,440 abortions were performed in Texas in 2017, according to the most recent data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization supporting abortion rights, although some of those patients may have been out-of-state women. Guttmacher reports that abortions performed in Texas are responsible for more than 6% of abortions in the US.
With an estimated 1,000 women seeking abortions per week in Texas, clinics in nearby states report being overwhelmed.
The Trust Women’s Clinic in Oklahoma City, which is about a three-hour drive from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, saw about 11 patients in August. In September, after the Texas law came into force, that number rose to 110, and phones at the clinic are ringing incessantly, said Rebecca Tong, co-executive director of Trust Women, which also operates a clinic in Wichita, Kansas. .
“Many of them are literally trying to drive through the night and then come to their appointment at 8 a.m., not resting,” Tong said. “It’s not a good idea to just run into an outpatient surgery in the evening and think you can go home later.”
Tong said Texas law and the difficulty of scheduling appointments out-of-state also force women to wait longer, which means more expenses, greater risks and fewer options for terminating the pregnancy.
Legislators in some states around Texas hope to enact a similar law that would outlaw most abortions. In Oklahoma, Republican State Sen. Julie Daniels wrote or sponsored four separate measures to further restrict the practice. All four laws are being challenged in court.
When the Texas women were asked to answer, Daniels said their calculations were not complicated.
“The calculus is simple and straightforward: An unborn child is a child. That’s life. It’s just that, and so it doesn’t get any more complicated than that,” she said. “I am first and foremost concerned with the life of the unborn child.”