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‘Lifelong consequences’: What happens to people who can’t get abortions


On the morning Texas’ restrictive new abortion law took effect, an ultrasound examination of Marva Sadler’s first patient showed fetal cardiac activity, rendering the woman ineligible for a legal abortion.

Sadler, senior director of clinical services for Whole Woman’s Health, said the woman was a single mother of two and had just started a new job. She didn’t have anyone to take care of her children and couldn’t take off work to travel to another state to get an abortion.

“It was the first real blow of ‘I really can’t fix this.’ How do you answer that? And that conversation quickly took over to us figuring out how to get her prenatal care,” Sadler said.

In the 48 hours leading up to Sept. 1, Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth, Texas, provided 66 abortions a day on average. But during the first three days of the law being in effect, the clinic provided 11 abortions a day on average.

“The women who not only live in this state — but who work, pay taxes, vote, pray and are raising the future leaders of this community — are being denied their very basic right to health care,” Sadler said.

In Houston, Doris Dixon, director of patient access at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said call centers for abortion services have turned into help lines, where staff members are “walking patients through this new law” and helping “them navigate where they can go.”

“Patients are struggling, and the staff is struggling,” Dixon said.

Since the law took effect, Dixon said most of the patients she has observed seeking care at Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston are ineligible for an abortion.

“Some of this is just outside of our ability to help,” Dixon said. “There are no babysitting services for people to send their children to while they go out of state, and there’s no guarantee that they won’t lose their jobs because they would be gone for two or three days. The issue is a lot bigger than even just finding resources for them to go elsewhere.”

“People will fall through the cracks and wind up having to carry their pregnancies to term,” she added.

The new law forbids abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually at around six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant. The law allows no exceptions for rape or incest. Texas is the first state to effectively outlaw abortion at this point in pregnancies since Roe v. Wade.

Many won’t be able to get an abortion outside of Texas because of financial or circumstantial challenges, including the cost of travel, difficulty taking time off from work or securing child care.

Abortion-rights advocates and providers say Senate Bill 8, as the new law is known, will probably lead to an increase in patients carrying unwanted pregnancies to term. Consequently, many will feel the financial and health impacts of being turned away from a clinic for years to come.

Denial of abortion leads to economic hardship

While people of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds get abortions, about half of all individuals who obtain one live below the federal poverty level. When someone already struggling financially is denied care, it puts them in an even more difficult economic situation, said Diana Greene Foster, a professor in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

Foster is the leader of the Turnaway Study, a nationwide project that examined the long-term effects of either having an abortion or being turned away. The study found that people who were denied an abortion had almost four times greater odds of being below the federal poverty level.

Abortion-rights protesters outside the Texas state Capitol on Sept. 1.Sergio Flores / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

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