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Women's Clinics In Texas Must Abide By State's New Abortion Law


In Texas, doctors and clinics that provide abortions are trying to navigate a new and difficult reality. Any abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy is now illegal, and that's been the case since Wednesday, when a new Texas law went into effect. Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that they would not temporarily stop this law, despite several ongoing legal challenges. Ashley Lopez of member station KUT visited a clinic that provides abortions in Austin, and she joins us now. Ashley, tell us what's going on at health clinics in Texas? Were patients still being seen where you went?

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Yes, they were. People were coming in for appointments, but not necessarily getting the care they wanted. So I went to one of four clinics in Texas run by Whole Woman's Health. I arrived later in the morning. And 11 patients had already been seen in that one clinic to confirm their pregnancies and/or to see how far along they were. And of those 11, only three still qualified to get an abortion under this new law. The other eight were past the legal limit.

MARTIN: So what did the doctors, the other medical staff - how did they handle that?

LOPEZ: Well, they really can't do anything. I spoke to Dr. Joe Nelson, and he told me about a patient who came in on Wednesday. She had already gone through a medication abortion, which is through taking pills. It's a very safe process and effective, but in very rare cases, it doesn't work. And that's what happened to this patient. Joe Nelson says she came back to the clinic for next steps.

JOE NELSON: Here she was, still pregnant. The law was passed. And not only was she now forced to continue a pregnancy that she didn't want, it's now a complicated pregnancy because of the medications she took. And so walking into that room, all I could do was just sit with her as she cried. I mean, there's nothing else that I could do.

LOPEZ: He said he's been surprised by how many patients were blindsided by this law. Many people don't follow the news that closely, and they woke up that morning not realizing their abortion rights had been severely curtailed. I also checked in with Planned Parenthood yesterday, and they told me they have also turned away the majority of patients seeking abortions in their various clinics throughout the state. A spokesperson told me they expect that 85% of patients who were seeking an abortion will no longer qualify under this new law.

MARTIN: When you talked to other workers in these health clinics, what did they tell you about their perception of the new law?

LOPEZ: Well, they feel really angry, sad and defiant. You know, no one said they were thinking of quitting their job over this. These workers have a lot of resolve. This is something they care deeply about. And they're used to fighting tough laws in Texas. But because of the way this new law was written, they're also very vulnerable right now. The law was designed to not be enforced by the government. Instead, enforcement is in the hands of the public. Anyone can now file a civil lawsuit against anyone who they think might be helping a woman get an abortion after the new legal cutoff. As we said, that's about six weeks. And despite the situation there and personally, though, staff members told me they're most worried about the patients. I talked to Sonja Miller, who is an administrator.

SONJA MILLER: Staff are angry. They're devastated in some ways. I mean, when you have to look a woman in the eye and say, I'm sorry. According to the sonogram, you are - we've found fetal cardiac activity, and we have to turn you away. The state of Texas will not allow you to have an abortion.

LOPEZ: Clinics in Texas are still fighting this in court. And they hope they can ultimately get this law struck down in the future, but we don't know if or when that will happen.

MARTIN: Ashley Lopez from KUT in Austin. Ashley, thanks for your reporting. We appreciate it.

LOPEZ: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.