Texas Women Drive Hours for Abortions after New Law

19 October 2021

A 33-year-old pregnant woman from Texas recently drove alone through the night to get to Shreveport, Louisiana. She had come to the city for an abortion - a medical operation to end her pregnancy.

The woman, who is single and unemployed, has three children between the ages of 5 and 13. She feared that adding a baby now would take time, food and money away from her children. Without help from groups offering a safe abortion, she said, she probably would have sought another way to end her pregnancy.

"If you can't get rid of the baby, what's the next thing you're going to do?" she said. "You're going to try to get rid of it yourself. It shouldn't be like that," she added. "I shouldn't have to do that."

Last month, Texas passed a law banning most abortions in the state. The law says abortions may not take place if the doctor can see or hear the fetus's heart activity. That is usually possible by about six weeks into a pregnancy. Most women do not even know they are pregnant within that time period.

The law makes no exceptions for rape or incest. As a result, abortion centers in surrounding states are seeing far more women from outside the state than usual.

A woman naps, bundled up against the air conditioning, as she waits to have an abortion, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La. The nation's most restrictive abortion law is driving many women from Texas to seek service in neighboring states.
A woman naps, bundled up against the air conditioning, as she waits to have an abortion, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La. The nation's most restrictive abortion law is driving many women from Texas to seek service in neighboring states.

The 33-year-old Texas mother was one of more than 10 women who arrived on October 9 at the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport. Some of the women came alone. Others arrived with a friend or a partner. Some brought their children because they were unable to get childcare.

All were seeking to end pregnancies, and most were from neighboring Texas. Some of the women agreed to speak to The Associated Press on the condition that their names not be given.

Like many of the others, the 33-year-old Texas mother said she tried to seek an abortion closer to home. But she was too far along in her pregnancy. By the time she arrived at the Shreveport center, she was nine weeks pregnant. She was too far along to use medication to end her pregnancy. So, she had to have the operation.

She said the process left her angry with the Texas politicians who passed the law.

"If I had to keep this baby, ain't no telling what would've happened. I probably would've went crazy, and they don't understand that," she said. Her voice was filled with emotion.

A 25-year-old woman made the 112-kilometer trip south from Texarkana, on the border of Texas and Arkansas. She said she was already five weeks along before she learned she was pregnant. She knew it would be impossible to schedule the required two visits at a Texas center closer to home. By the time of her appointment in Shreveport, her pregnancy was almost too far along for a medication abortion.

"Luckily I found out when I did," she said, "because then I was still able to take the pill rather than the surgery."

The Texas law has faced legal opposition in courts for weeks. The administration of President Joe Biden urged the courts again last week to suspend the law. That effort came three days after a federal appeals court put the law back in place. An earlier lower-court ruling had created a brief 48-hour period in which Texas abortion providers hurried to bring in patients again.

The anti-abortion campaign that fueled the law aims to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Abortion opponents hope the conservative coalition of justices that formed under former President Donald Trump will end the constitutional right to have an abortion.

As most of the women arrived at the abortion center, they were met by abortion protesters. Most of the protesters were from East Texas. They often make the trip to the Shreveport center.

John Powers is from Jacksonville, Texas. The 44-year-old said he usually makes the nearly two-hour drive to Shreveport two times a month. His goal is to get any woman to change her mind. In the 13 years he has been protesting outside centers, he says he has persuaded two women to change their minds. He calls these two times "turnarounds."

"I'm not going to say it happens a lot," said Powers. "Let's say I never have another turnaround, that one baby that can now grow up and marry and have her own children, go to school and maybe become a journalist. That'd be worth it, easily worth it to me."

Once inside the medical center, women are welcomed by workers who offer understanding and support.

Many of the women's stories are troubling for the center's administrator, Kathaleen Pittman. She started working in an abortion center 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 abused.

"She's a child," Pittman said. "She should not have to be on the road for hours getting here."

Before the law went into effect, Pittman said, about 20 percent of people she saw were from Texas. They mostly came from the eastern part of the state, not far from Shreveport. Now that number is closer to 60 percent, and the women come hundreds of kilometers away from cities like Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

About 55,440 abortions were performed in Texas in 2017. That number comes from the most recent data available from the Guttmacher Institute. The research organization supports abortion rights. Abortions performed in Texas represent more than 6 percent of all abortions in the United States, Guttmacher reported.

An estimated 1,000 women each week in Texas seek an abortion. Centers in nearby states are reporting huge increases in patient numbers.

The Trust center in Oklahoma City is about a three-hour drive from the Texas city of Dallas. It saw about 11 patients from Texas in August, just before the new law went into effect. By September, that number jumped to 110. Telephones at the center are always ringing, said Rebecca Tong. She is a leader of Trust Women.

The Texas law and the difficulty in finding out-of-state appointments also force women to wait longer. This leads to greater costs, more risks and fewer available methods for ending pregnancy, Tong said.

Legislators in some states surrounding Texas hope to pass a similar law that would prevent most abortions. In Oklahoma, Republican state lawmaker Julie Daniels wrote or supported four separate measures to further restrict abortions. All four laws are facing opposition in court.

When asked what she would say to the Texas women, Daniels said her position is not complex.

"I'm concerned first and foremost with the life of the unborn child."

I'm Caty Weaver.

And I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

incest - n. sexual intercourse between people who are very closely related

schedule - v. to plan (something) at a certain time

pill - n. a small, rounded object that you swallow and that contains medicine, vitamins, etc.

surgery - n. medical treatment in which a doctor cuts into someone's body in order to repair or remove damaged or diseased parts

journalist - n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio

first and foremost - n. at the most basic level