October 14, 2021

While Texas abortion ban yo-yos in courts, one provider talks about the effects

Abortion rights supporters organized by the Center for Reproductive Rights rally as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 in Washington.(Alyssa Schukar/Center for Reproductive Rights)

As Texas abortion rights yo-yo in the courts, one Planned Parenthood doctor said the volume in patients coming from Texas has not changed.

Last week a federal Texas judge placed a temporary injunction on SB 8, the Texas law that bans abortion at six weeks, at the U.S. Department of Justice’s request. The DOJ is suing Texas over the law.

But within 48 hours after the injunction, the 5th US Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s injunction, making abortion illegal in the state of Texas, again, after six weeks gestation.

According to national media, the DOJ has appealed and is asking the courts to reconsider placing an injunction on the ban. But, CNN reported that the Texas law contains a clause that says that if the ban is stayed through an injunction and the injunction is later overturned, individuals could sue anyone who “aided and abetted” a Texas abortion patient during the injunction period. The fine for “aiding and abetting” starts at $10,000 in civil penalties.

Dr. Kristina Tocce, a doctor with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the yo-yo effect of the court’s back and forth over the Texas law has not affected morale. She said morale was affected, instead, on Sept. 1 when it became clear that the U.S. Supreme Court would not consider an emergency injunction to block the ban.

“I think the morale shift was on Sept. 1, feeling like this could not be reality. How could this happen in the U.S. in 2021? We have so much evidence it [abortion] is safe and saves lives; when it’s accessible, public health outcomes are better, societal health is better. The morale shaking day was Sept. 1, that it really happened, it was a surreal date,” she said.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said last week during a Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains press conference, that the state was trying to help New Mexico abortion clinics with resources because clinics in New Mexico are reporting a significant increase in patients. Tocce said that increase did not change  during the two-day injunction last week.

Daniel Marzec, the Speaker’s communications director, told NM Political Report that Egolf is looking into “safe funding” for abortion clinics in New Mexico. That could mean something such as increased Medicaid reimbursements for clinics, but nothing has been put into place yet, Marzec said.

“The Speaker is very concerned with what is happening with SB 8 and the influx of patients from Texas to New Mexico,” he said.

Related: With 130 percent increase in Texas patients, New Mexico Planned Parenthood clinics have 21 day wait times

But Tocce called the current landscape in the U.S. “bleak,” for abortion care. This year, 106 anti-abortion laws have been enacted in states, making 2021 the most hostile year for reproductive care since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, according to the national nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America. There are now 12 states that are considering an SB 8 copycat law, NARAL has stated.

“The bottom line is, everyone working in abortion care right now, throughout the country, began to accept a new world and this is the world we need to figure out medical care in; how to increase access and make things as streamlined as possible for patients making that extra journey. What services and support we can provide for patients who can’t make that trip, who don’t have the means,” Tocce said.

Tocce said everyone is working as hard as they can at PPRM clinics to absorb the increased demand from Texas while also maintaining local care, but she said she worries about staff burnout. In addition, she said there could be other unforeseen impacts in the future from this law.

“All of these individuals training to become physicians in Texas will have no ability to be trained in abortion care,” she said. “We are going to continue to find things like this that have such deep impacts in terrible ways and we’ll see this more and more as time goes on. There’s no end date. The most chilling thing is knowing there are other pieces of legislation waiting to take effect, what’s on the Supreme Court docket. There is a lot of fear this situation is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Tocce said that last week when the injunction went into effect, the mood among reproductive health care providers was that it “wouldn’t stick.” Providers saw this kind of court action in March and early April 2020 when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared abortion care as “nonessential” during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and forced clinics to shut down in Texas. 

Abortion rights advocates sued and the case went back and forth in the Texas courts.

“We continued to do our work. We’re committed to seeing as many patients as we can who can make it to us. We’re very well aware there are thousands and thousands who don’t have the means to travel to arrange to go so far for this very basic medical care,” Tocce said.

Tocce said providing care since the ban went into effect has been “excruciating” because of the patients’ stories.

“To hear their frustration and confusion, ‘why my state and my government would do this.’ It’s really challenging and emotionally exhausting,” she said.

She also talked about how far some patients have had to travel, taking flights or driving up to 16 hours to get to a clinic.

“I can’t emphasize enough how detrimental this is,” she said.