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Providers Report Anger And Despair Among Patients After Texas Officials Ban Abortions

Abortion providers have had to call patients to cancel their appointments this week because of a ban issued Sunday.
Julia Reihs
Abortion providers have had to call patients to cancel their appointments this week because of a ban issued Sunday.

Officials at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas say they have canceled 261 abortions since Tuesday, after the state effectively banned the procedure.

Sarah Wheat, the chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas in Austin, said the health centers have also been prevented from helping patients seeking abortions.

“Our health centers have received 583 calls from patients seeking appointments during that same time period,” she said in a statement.

On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued on order halting  procedures that are “not immediately medically necessary” during the coronavirus outbreak. The next day, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton confirmed that included abortions.  

“It’s been really difficult,” said Dr. Amna Dermish, the regional medical director for Central Texas with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

Dermish said clinic staff have been forced to call women to let them know their appointments had been canceled indefinitely. She said patients have responded with “anger, sadness, frustration and despair” when they’ve gotten that call.

“We have had to rotate staff through that job because it’s a really difficult thing to do,” Dermish said.

These cancellations are also coming at a particularly hard time for many patients, Planned Parenthood officials say. The COVID-19 outbreak has caused an unprecedented spike in unemployment claims, as joblessness rates increase across the country.

“Our patients are just like everyone else out there,” Dermish said. “They are dealing with job losses, health insurance losses, concerns about their health and their welfare.”

She said “adding an unintended pregnancy” and taking away the option of having an abortion has been hard for her patients to deal with.

“You know I had a patient – I had to tell her the news that we couldn’t see her,” Dermish said. “And she sat for a minute and then I asked her, ‘How are you feeling with this?’ And she said, ‘I feel lost.’”

Other providers in Texas have also reported massive cancelations this week.

Amy Hagstrom-Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said her clinics had been forced to cancel more than 150 appointments as of Wednesday.

During an online event with anti-abortion activists earlier this week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised Abbott, who said his order applies to abortions. Ultimately, Paxton said, the order was “designed to protect hospitals.”

“The truth is abortion – for the most part – is an elective procedure that can be done later,” he said.

This week providers and advocates filed a lawsuit asking a court to block the state’s ban immediately.

In the meantime, there is a lot of uncertainty around who providers can help at this point, including people with a range of medical needs.

“Regardless of their reason for seeking an abortion and their personal circumstances,” Wheat said, “every patient’s ability to access an abortion at our health centers is blocked right now by Texas Governor Abbott and Att. General Paxton.”

Dermish said this has raised concerns among other medical providers, too.

“I got a panicked call from one of my maternal fetal medicine colleagues on Monday saying, “I have a patient that was supposed to see you this week with a fetal anomaly,'" Dermish said. “'What is she supposed to do?'”

Dermish said she is also concerned this ban will likely force women to travel to other states, which could create issues as state officials around the country try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Historically, women in Texas have also sought to  self-induce abortions, as clinics closed their doors in the state –which could raise another set of problems.

“Honestly, I wish Gov. Abbott or Attorney General Paxton had to make those phone calls to cancel those procedures for those patients,” Dermish said. “And then maybe they would have a sense of what the impact is on the people in our community.”

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio .

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Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016.
Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez joined KUT in January 2016. She covers politics and health care, and is part of the NPR-Kaiser Health News reporting collaborative. Previously she worked as a reporter at public radio stations in Louisville, Ky.; Miami and Fort Myers, Fla., where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.