Despite Supreme Court Ruling, South Plains Women Still Have Go Hundreds of Miles for an Abortion

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Monday the Supreme Court overturned Texas law HB2 in a 5-3 vote, saying that the law was unconstitutional because it placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions. Despite this decision, HB2 which was enacted in 2013 has already had a profound impact on cities around Texas, including Lubbock. In part due to HB2, women in Lubbock seeking abortions have to drive over 300 miles to access the procedure. 

HB2 required clinics that provide abortions to have surgical facilities, it also required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion will happen. 

The court ruled that HB2 violated the Constitution and questioned state of Texas’ claim that the bill would protect women’s safety. As a result of HB2 many clinics across the state have had to shut their doors.  Prior to the law Texas had 40 abortion clinics, most estimates project that less than half of those clinics still exist. 

Analysis from CNN in March places Lubbock at the heart of Texas’ “abortion access desert.”  Angela Martinez was interviewed in that article, she was the former Clinic Director of Lubbock’s Planned Parenthood Office. She spoke with about how HB2 influenced women’s health services on the South Plains:

“I do see an impact [from HB2] with the lack of access in Lubbock now,” she said. “Because people know what I did [at Planned Parenthood], I’ve had friends call and ask where the closest clinic was and I would have to refer them to Albuquerque or  Dallas or  Austin or San Antonio. So women are having to drive 6 or 7 hours for access.”

Martinez added that the drive to those far-off clinics can be tough for women who don’t have a car or work full-time jobs. 

Lubbock used to have a Planned Parenthood facility which also housed an abortion clinic. That facility acquired the abortion clinic only a few years before they were forced to shut it down after HB2. An anonymous former employee of the clinic explained that the clinic suffered after Texas withdrew funding from Planned Parenthood. Once HB2 was enacted, the clinic didn’t have enough single-payer patients to stay afloat financially. In November of 2013 Planned Parenthood and the abortion clinic closed, immediately after they were acquired by the pro-adoption group Generation Healthcare. 

“I’ve always loved working for Planned Parenthood, we all cared about the mission, we all loved what we did but when HB2 was threatening to pass, we did our research and tried to look into how much it would be to renovate the facility get the doctors admitting privileges, check into the medications,” Martinez explained.
“So we did our research and then when it finally passed, we had to close, we wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Martinez explained that she began working at Lubbock’s Planned Parenthood when she graduated from college,  she spent four years working there and three of those were at the abortion clinic. 

Martinez added that Planned Parenthood in Lubbock offered all kinds of counseling, and that abortions were just one of many options women could talk through while there. 

Martinez explained that the abortion clinic would serve around 40 women each week, with women traveling from Amarillo, Oklahoma, and New Mexico to access services. 

After years of working in women’s health, she sees the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday as a victory. 

“I thought it was very exciting, I’m happy that the Supreme Court also saw that it was an undue burden on women having to drive so many miles or having to go to the clinic so many times,” she said.

But she added that this Supreme Court decision doesn’t make things immediately easier for women in Lubbock seeking options during their pregnancy.

“We haven’t had access [to abortion] here for two and half years and there are so many women who could have been seen or should have been that haven’t,” she said. “So I’m hoping something will happen in Lubbock soon but I haven’t heard anything yet.”

Arnold H. Loewy, the George Killam Professor of Criminal Law at Texas Tech spent Monday poring over the the Supreme Court’s decision and commented that the ruling builds on the court’s previous abortion-related rulings.

“Essentially [the court’s ruling] meant that the state was making it harder for an abortion facility to stay open without any corresponding gain to the health of it’s patients and the court said ‘you can’t do that.'” Loewy explained. “I think to the extent that the decision adds anything– it kind of puts an exclamation point on the proposition that if you claim your procedures are necessary for health, you better have some evidence to establish that.”

Loewy knows quite a bit about federal abortion laws, he once argued on behalf of the state against adopting Roe v. Wade, that was before the case went to the Supreme Court.  Loewy has been studying the Supreme Court for 52 years. 

He explained that one of the questions posed in the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday was whether Texas’ remaining abortion clinics would be enough to meet the needs of the state. 

“Lubbock is one place that one place that might be expected to get it’s own abortion clinic in the near future, but obviously the court doesn’t compel any abortion clinic to open– it just facilitates it some,” Loewy said. 

To Loewy’s knowledge there had been no incidents or medical problems at the old Lubbock abortion clinic. If the clinic did have a clean safety record, Loewy explained,  the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday would suggest that the state could be violating the Constitution in placing an “undue burden” on women to travel for hours elsewhere for services when safe services existed in Lubbock prior to HB2. 

“I also know just from personal experience that our clinic was safe and we never had any issues, and if for any reason we did have an issue we had protocol to assess the situation or fix it,” Martinez explained. 

Right now, she is concerned that many women on the South Plains aren’t sure where to turn when they have an unwanted pregnancy; she still gets calls from people looking for advice from her about where to find the services they can’t get in Lubbock. 

“I’m hopeful that something will change in the future, I’m hopeful that there are conversations happening about wanting to reopen the clinic in Lubbock or start a whole new clinic, but as of right now, women are still getting pregnant and they’re going to have to travel to Dallas or Austin to have an abortion,” Martinez said.  “That’s unfortunate for right now, it’s harder to think about the future when you know that women are still having trouble getting access right now.”

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