HOUSTON, Texas–The eight remaining abortion clinics in Texas are reporting a spike in the number of phone calls and longer waits for appointments after a federal court allowed enforcement of the last of Texas’ new strict abortion regulations.
The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that its analysis of data shows Texas, the second most-populous U.S. state, now has 75 percent fewer abortion clinics than two years ago, among the fewest per capita anywhere in the U.S. and the smallest number of clinics open since the 1970s.
A dozen abortion facilities closed after a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Oct. 2 allowed the state to enforce tough clinic laws passed by the Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry last year. The full 5th Circuit last week declined to reconsider the ruling and abortion rights supporters now have asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
Critics say the Texas law is an unconstitutional effort to over-regulate abortion out of existence in Texas, though supporters maintain that it is about protecting women’s safety. Republican-controlled state legislatures across the U.S. have enacted tough new abortion restrictions, many of which are being challenged in the courts.
A spokesman for the Austin Planned Parenthood facility told the newspaper it received seven times as many calls as normal last week, with many of the calls from far-away cities such as Midland and McAllen, where abortion access has disappeared.
In Texas, two clinics now are open in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Austin and Fort Worth each have one.
Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Dallas, said he was anticipating a jump in calls but not from so many women hundreds of miles away.
He told the newspaper that when a mother seeking an abortion for her daughter was told the next available appointment wasn’t for another three weeks, she said: “We might as well go to Mexico.”
Then she hung up, Lambrecht said.
“It’s hard to explain because in a way, it’s exactly what we expected, but at the same time, it’s something completely different and something we didn’t plan for because we couldn’t,” Lambrecht said.
Planned Parenthood in Houston spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla said calls have been up 170 percent in the week after the 5th Circuit panel’s ruling.
The Chronicle analysis of data shows about 750,000 Texas women of reproductive age now live more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) away from an abortion clinic.
Records show annual abortions in Texas have fallen gradually over the years even as the number of clinics, until recently, remained steady. Department of State Health Services records counted 68,298 procedures in 2012 at 43 clinics, down 12 percent from 2001 when there were 34 providers.
Lindsay Rodriguez, president of the Lillith Fund, which helps women pay for abortions, said the state-required clinic upgrades were leading to increases in costs of abortions and that longer waiting times meant later-term abortions, which are more complicated.