Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some mention of distance, though not rural women, in NYT coverage of Texas abortion clinic closure

Abby Goodnough reported in the NYTimes yesterday under the headline, "Texas Abortion Law Has Women Waiting Longer, Paying More," in a story that features more metro centric coverage of the current state of abortion availability in Texas following the implementation of Texas H.B. 2.  (Read more here and here.)  The piece focuses on the availability of abortion in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan area, featuring the story of a woman who lives in that conurbation.  The story includes barely a mention of rural women, who are even more disserved by the law, though it does talk about the great distances that some women are traveling--say from El Paso into New Mexico--to procure an abortion.

The Texas law, passed in 2013, has closed so many clinics that the remaining abortion providers now have long waiting lists for women seeking the procedure.  What gets little mention in this story or in the recent oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt is that the women who live farthest from the handful of providers able to remain open--all in east and north Texas, along the I-35 and I-45 corridors--not only face those same long waits, they must traverse great distances, sometimes multiple times, to reach the clinics.  Here's the little bit that Goodnough did include about women living outside major metropolitan areas:
Other patients at the [Fort Worth] clinic that weekend had driven from Lubbock, about 300 miles away, and Odessa, 320 miles away.
Odessa, with a population of just 100,000, is in west Texas, and Lubbock is somewhat north of there, with a population of about 250,000.  Lubbock previously had an abortion provider, and there was also a provider much closer to Odessa, in Midland, before the first phase of Texas H.B. 2 went into effect a few years ago.

Goodnough also illustrates the distance challenge--but again in relation to a metropolitan woman--with a young woman who had traveled from El Paso to Albuquerque (about four hours) to get an abortion.  Although an abortion clinic in El Paso remains open for now (it will close if the Supreme Court upholds the Fifth Circuit's determination of H.B. 2's constitutionality), the El Paso woman was not able to have an abortion there because her pregnancy was at 16 weeks by the time she could get an appointment, and that necessitated a trip to a clinic that performs abortions in the second trimester.  For the woman in El Paso, that meant either Albuquerque or San Antonio, and the former was closer.

Meanwhile, over at Slate.com, Laura Moser reports under the headline, "Long Road Ahead" in a story that, as the headline suggests, attends somewhat more to the distance/transportation issue, but again from a metropolitan perspective.  Here is an excerpt with some cold hard facts about the consequences of H.B.2:
For women whose nearest clinic closed (38%), the mean one-way distance traveled was 85 miles, compared with 22 miles for women whose nearest clinic remained open. … [M]ore women whose nearest clinic closed traveled more than 50 miles (44% vs 10%), had out-of-pocket expenses greater than $100 (32% vs 20%), had a frustrated demand for medication abortion (37% vs 22%), and reported that it was somewhat or very hard to get to the clinic.  
The focus of the Moser story is an organization, Clinic Access Support Network, that provides transport to get women to and from abortion clinics, primarily in greater Houston.
Angie Hayes, who started the organization in August 2013, was volunteering as a clinic escort when she noticed a number of women showing up and leaving in cabs (since, of course, you cannot drive yourself home from an abortion). ... She started organizing an informal network of volunteer drivers, and it snowballed from there: CASN now has about 36 volunteers and drives about 150 Houston-area women per year.
* * *
CASN isn’t getting calls from the abortion desert that is the Rio Grande Valley yet, but women are requesting rides from Texas A&M, 100 miles away (the abortion clinic in Bryan, a town 10 minutes from A&M, closed in 2013), from 85 miles away in Beaumont (its only abortion clinic closed in 2014), and 75 miles away in Brenham. But most calls come from inside Houston, a city so sprawling that 25 Manhattans could fit inside it.
Cross-posted to Feminist Legal Theory.

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