Come September, there will be six abortion clinics in Texas. Six clinics, intended to serve more than 13 million women across a state nearly 300,000 square miles in size, concentrated in five of the state’s largest metropolitan areas and leaving virtually the entire western portion of Texas — the Panhandle, the Rio Grande Valley — without reproductive care. The clinics that remain open in September will be able to do so only because they meet the new standards outlined in H.B. 2, the extreme anti-choice legislation that Wendy Davis spent 11 hours filibustering last June, which mandates abortion providers meet the guidelines for ambulatory surgical centers. These standards can cost up to $40,000 a month to maintain, and have already forced clinics across the state to shut down. With abortion providers in the western part of the state shuttered, women who live in the region — particularly the Valley — are left without options.
The aftermath of Texas’s radical restrictions on reproductive rights is no longer hypothetical. To capture the harsh reality now faced by hundreds of thousands of the state’s women, most of them poor, Cosmopolitan’s Jill Filipovic recently traveled to the Rio Grande Valley and made the journey a woman must take to retain control of her reproductive choices — specifically, the four-hour-plus drive from Brownsville, the Valley’s largest city, to San Antonio, where the nearest clinic is located. Despite being portrayed as “not impossibly burdensome,” the roadblocks to abortion are numerous and often insurmountable, as Filipovic describes:
There’s no public transportation linking the Valley to San Antonio, so women need access to a car — something many Valley residents don’t have — and money for gas, which can cost more than what a Valley woman makes in a whole day. Driving nearly 300 miles and then having an ultrasound or an abortion means a woman has to take the whole day off work, and women in the Valley, who are likely to work in textile manufacturing or in the fields or as cleaning staff, often don’t get paid if they don’t work. According to abortion providers’ surveys of patients, some 70 percent of Valley women who terminate pregnancies already have children, so driving to San Antonio means paying for childcare too. And since Texas law requires two in-person clinic visits, one for counseling and an ultrasound, and one for the abortion a full 24 hours later, having an abortion means doing all of this twice, or paying to stay overnight in a hotel.
When they can’t afford or arrange to drive the long distance to San Antonio — or when they are rightly too frightened to do so — many women resort to unsafe, at-home abortion methods, which can have numerous complications and are often ineffective. Cytotec, an ulcer medication known to induce uterine contractions and miscarriage, is a common first or last resort; still, many women have to travel to Mexico to find it. Filipovic describes other options many women consider — teas, more pills, even surgical abortions out of people’s homes — that an estimated 12 percent of Valley residents have reported trying before going to a clinic.
Along with her report on the state of women’s healthcare, Filipovic also compiled a photo essay chronicling each and every step of the path to an abortion. The Texas roads might appear straight and flat, but they are long, winding and littered with hurdles for the countless women who must travel them. And, if anti-choice activists and legislators prevail, they will also become endless.