A year after the Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision, women in Texas continue to face restrictions on their reproductive rights.
Since the decision, some restrictions have remained in place—including a 24-hour mandatory waiting period that forces some women to stay overnight after traveling far distances in order to access abortion care. And in the year that has passed since the Supreme Court’s historic ruling, only three clinics have reopened. (Reopening a clinic is extremely difficult: Doctors and staff often move away after clinic closure, and covering the cost of rent and rebuilding is difficult—as is, in conservative areas, finding contractors who are willing to participate.)
Ms. interviewed Dr. Jessica Rubino, a family planning physician with Whole Women’s Health in San Antonio and Austin as well as a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, on the long-lasting impact of HB2—a draconian abortion bill that shuttered nearly half of Texas’ clinics and put low-income women and women of color in particular in danger. Despite a victory in the courts, abortion access in Texas remains scarce and laws remain troubling.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The best part of job is connecting with our patients in their time of need, finding ways to make their world a bit brighter. By far the most challenging aspect of my job is also in interacting with our patients, and realizing the multitude of barriers they have to access care that is their constitutional and bodily right. It’s hard seeing their struggles every day, but it’s their struggles that push me to keep going, keep providing and keep advocating for their health.
What has the process of trying to rebuild abortion clinics in Texas been like since the Whole Woman’s Health decision? What are some obstacles from anti-abortion groups that you’ve had to overcome?
It seems in our moment of victory after the historic Supreme Court decision last summer that reaffirmed our right to safe, legal abortion care, the state legislature has been quick to cut our celebrations short. Clinics that were closed due to HB2 restrictions cannot re-open overnight. Not only do they require funding, staffing and other logistical issues, we also have to contend with a terrible new bill from Texas—SB8. It’s one hit after another for us, despite knowing our constitutional right to abortion was just again upheld!
What are some stories you’ve heard from women who suffered from the lack of access to reproductive healthcare following the passage of HB2?
Nearly all of the stories from patients have been the same: try to find a clinic closest to you, which in Texas could be 200 miles away, take time off work, get a babysitter or family member to watch your children, coordinate a ride there and back, then again there and back the day of the procedure because of restrictions that have and continue to exist (the 24-hour waiting period). The story is the same, over and over again, from real patients. These are their real burdens, and they are undue.
If the Senate passes Trumpcare, what challenges do you anticipate abortion providers will have to face?
If indeed all funding to Planned Parenthood is stripped, and patients have high premiums and no private health insurance coverage for abortion, providers at private abortion clinics will have to pick up the extra cases. As long as there has been pregnancy, there has been abortion. Women will continue to need them for a multitude of reasons and we will have to find ways to get women the care they need.
As we saw just after HB2 was passed, this will all likely lead to increased waiting times and decreased access to care. And we have data that show what happens then, overall abortion numbers slightly decrease or stay the same, while second trimester abortions increase.
We are really being attacked from all sides—at the state level with SB8, at the congressional level with the senate’s so-called healthcare bill and the executive level with the appointment of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court.