OKLAHOMA CITY – On a blustery Tuesday morning, the parking lot outside a small brick apartment building on the south side of Oklahoma City was filling up quickly. The first to arrive, a red truck shortly before 8 a.m., was from Texas. The second and the third too.
The building is home to one of Oklahoma’s four abortion clinics, and at least two-thirds of its scheduled patients are now from Texas. So much so, in fact, that he’s trying to hire more staff and doctors to keep pace. The increase is the result of a new law in Texas banning abortions after about six weeks, a very early stage of pregnancy. As soon as the measure went into effect this month, Texans began traveling elsewhere, and Oklahoma, near Dallas, became a major destination.
“We had each line on for eight straight hours,” said Jennifer Reince, who handles the front desk phones at the Trust Women Oklahoma City clinic, describing the first week the measure was in effect.
The effects of the new law were profound: Texans with unwanted pregnancies were forced to make decisions quickly, and some chose to travel long distances to abort. As clinics in neighboring states fill up, appointments are set for later dates, making procedures more expensive. Other women have to carry their pregnancies to term.
Marva Sadler, senior director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas, said she believed many patients were unable to arrange childcare or be absent from the hospital. work without losing their jobs to travel to other states.
“I think a majority of women are doomed to be parents,” she said.
The law is the latest in a string of successes for the anti-abortion movement, which for years has called for more conservative judges and control over state legislatures. Now the Supreme Court is preparing to take up an abortion case – the first to be argued in court with the three Tories appointed by former President Donald Trump – which has the potential to remove protection altogether federal government for abortion.
In Texas, the new state law has effectively accomplished this, at least for now.
Samerah, who requested that her last name not be released, was only five weeks pregnant when she lay down on an examination table in Houston to have an ultrasound. It was August 31, the day before the law came into force. She had heard about it on the news and knew that it prohibited abortions upon detection of heart activity. But when the doctor performed the ultrasound, there was no sound and he was told to come back the next day for his procedure.
When she came back and lay down in a dark room, looking at a set of paper dancers hanging from the ceiling, the doctor got a different result.
“He said, ‘Take a deep breath’ and budoom, budoom, budoom, all you hear is a heartbeat,” said Samerah, who is 22. “In that same breath, all the things I had my fingers crossed came out, and I just screamed and screamed and screamed.”
She walked down the hall, her mind racing, and saw other women there as well.
“We were all crying in the hallway like, ‘What are we going to do?'”
The response for many women in her position has been to run for an abortion in a different state. About half of the patients at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana are now from Texas, up from about a fifth before the law. At family planning departments in Little Rock, Arkansas, Texas, patients currently represent 19% of the caseload, up from less than 2% in August.
Oklahoma doesn’t require two clinic visits to get an abortion in most cases, so it’s a common choice. Trust Women had 11 patients from Texas in August; it has 110 so far in September. Patients come from as far away as Galveston and Corpus Christi. Some drive through the night in time for a morning meeting. Heavy demand from Texas has kept the clinic’s schedule full for weeks. Last week, the first dates were for mid-October.
Samerah arrived last Monday from Beaumont, a town near Houston, where she lives with her partner and their 2-year-old son.
News of her pregnancy, she said, threatened the life they had built for him.
Their financial situation had stabilized only recently. She had gotten a job in customer service. Her partner was driving a van for medical service. They moved from her family’s house to their own apartment. Their son has his own room. She bought new furniture: a sectional sofa and a bed.
“This was the first time we bought a brand new, ready-made mattress, not from Facebook or something,” she said.
She felt proud that she could give her son attention, toys, a stable home, things she said she never had. But she couldn’t afford to do this for two. “I don’t want to be that parent,” said Samerah, whose mother was a teenager when she was born. “I don’t want to bring my kid into something that I can’t afford to take care of because they don’t deserve it. I grew up in that kind of reality. And I know what it does to people. “
Samerah said she had already aborted once, the year after her son was born, for similar reasons. She said she made an appointment to get an IUD immediately after her procedure on Tuesday.
As states increasingly enact restrictions on abortion, it is increasingly poor women who must fight their effects. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports the right to abortion, half of American women who had an abortion in 2014 lived in poverty, or double in 1994, while about a quarter of women who had an abortion were low income. Theories as to why include demographic change, increased funding for abortions for low-income women, and high-income women with more access to highly effective contraception.
The longer women have to wait, the more expensive their procedures become. Abortions at Trust Women cost between $ 650 for the early stages and $ 2350 for the later stages. Financial assistance is also available.
Sarah, who works at a roofing company, found out she was 13 weeks pregnant on August 23. But then the law came into effect and she rushed to find a clinic in another state.
“It was just a scramble to take care of this, especially since I just ran out of time so quickly,” said Sarah, 21, who asked that her last name not be released to protect his private life.
She finally got her abortion at the Oklahoma City clinic on September 20. She had to defer paying for a car to cover her portion of the $ 1,550. Her partner, a police officer, shared the cost and drove her for three hours from Dallas where they live.
She said she had been alone for some time. Her mother died in a car accident at the age of 9, and her father died of cancer at the age of 19. And although she feels a lot more financially stable now than in her teens, she was starting to study criminal justice until the coronavirus pandemic. – she said she couldn’t stand a baby.
“I should put my life on hold,” she said. “I don’t know if I would be able to go back to school.”
Sarah had never been pregnant before, but said she knew her decision was the right one. It was still difficult. During the weeks she waited for her date, she said it was impossible not to think about what was growing inside her. The ultrasound confirming her pregnancy, which she received at a center run by an anti-abortion group, was performed by a woman who typed “Hi, Mom” and “Hi, it’s me” on the screen. and gave Sarah the impression.
“It’s hard not to have the instinct to want to bond with her,” Sarah said. “And just having to remind me every day, you can’t do it. Like, this just isn’t the time for you. So that was the hardest part.”
Trust Women also attracts anti-abortion groups. An RV operated by anti-abortion activists that advertises free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds sometimes pulls up across the street at the Rancho Village Food Mart.
Raymundo Marquez, 23, a cashier there, said his brother, who owns the shop, allows it. But Marquez has conflicting feelings. He believes abortion is bad. When his girlfriend got pregnant in high school, they didn’t think about it. But he said it was difficult to judge someone else for doing it because he knows there are homeless and neglected children.
“It’s sad both ways,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, a protester had appeared, standing in a green floral jacket and green flats, praying and looking towards the clinic’s security booth. Inside, Louis Padilla, the security guard, was watching her. She’s a regular, and sometimes he comes out to discuss her.
Padilla said he was a Catholic and a Republican, but won over to the clinic after working there for a while. Every woman has her own story, he says, and who are men like him to judge them? He mows the clinic’s lawn, hoists his flag and sometimes repairs devices because repairers refuse to go to an abortion clinic. He even bought a drone with his own money to monitor protesters outside.
The situation in Texas may be temporary. A hearing on October 1 will give opponents of the law another chance to convince a judge to suspend it. But other restrictions are emerging. In Oklahoma, there are five, including a law that requires abortion providers to be board-certified obstetricians. If it takes effect as planned on November 1, four of the eight doctors authorized to work at Trust Women will no longer be able to do so.
Samerah attended the Oklahoma clinic with the help of financial aid funds, which covered plane tickets for her and her son. Her abortion was also covered. But his partner had to pay his own way there. He was fired, she said, when he requested time off. And she lost several days of salary.
She doesn’t believe the people who passed the law considered the consequences for women like her. These officials, she said, go to work in “their car, which has no starting problems, with a tire that is not flat.”
During this time, she, her partner and her son will return to Texas with real fear that they will not be able to pay the October rent.
“I have to go home and figure out what to do next month, and next month is a few weeks away. Like, what am I gonna do, you know?
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