Abortion access Is vanishing: Clinics are closing at a rapid pace and shameless conservative legislators are gunning for what's left

162 clinics have either closed or stopped offering abortion since 2011 — and Republicans want even more shuttered

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published February 25, 2016 3:49PM (EST)

 (AP/Eric Gay)
(AP/Eric Gay)

Next week, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments for Whole Women's Health v Hellerstedt, a case out of Texas that will determine if states will be allowed to enact back-door bans on abortion by passing a bunch of unmeetable and unnecessary regulations that force clinics to shutter.  Even if the court overturns the Texas law that forces clinics to build hospital-style operating rooms and have admitting privileges at local hospitals (neither regulation makes abortions safer), the rash of anti-abortion legislation across the country has already done its damage.

As Bloomberg News reports, 162 clinics have closed or stopped offering abortion since 2011, and only 21 have opened. That's a huge problem, because there really aren't that many clinics to begin with. (Guttmacher counts fewer than 2,000 to handle the over 1 million abortions a year.) To make things worse, the clinic closures tend to be more concentrated in  red states, which means that there are some places in this country where women simply can't get an abortion if they need one.

In Texas, the restriction requiring clinics to have hospital admitting privileges has already gone into effect, halving the number of clinics in the state. The impact has been devastating. The remaining clinics are now having to handle way more patients than they are equipped to handle, forcing women in areas like Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Austin  to wait up to three weeks to get an abortion. Women in rural areas, especially in the west, are even worse off. Researchers in the state found that women are having to travel hundreds of miles, taking time off work and paying for hotel rooms, just to get an abortion. In some cases, the expense is too great and they are simply forced to have a baby, which is an immense burden on someone who can't afford travel to get an abortion.

No wonder there are reports that the number of women trying to self-induce abortions are going up.

Not that anti-choice activists or politicians give two hoots about the negative effects of abortion restrictions. After all, hurting women is the point of all this, and there appears to be no ethical or moral restraint on the lengths they will go to in order to hurt women.

In Alabama, which is already down to a mere five abortion clinics in the state, state Sen. Paul Sanford is showing exactly how much contempt he has for women by offering a bill that would literally regulate abortion clinics the same way that sex offenders are handled. The law would forbid clinics from operating within 2,000 feet of a public school, directly imitating the same regulation applied to sex offenders.

Obviously, the purpose of this bill is to imply that women who have sex without wanting to have babies are the equivalent of rapists and kiddie diddlers, but since anti-choicers can't breathe without being disingenuous about it, Sanford's got a bunch of nonsense justifications for this. In this case, he claims he's doing it to protect children from anti-choice protesters, arguing that clinics "do tend to cause a certain amount of commotion on a regular basis."

It is true that anti-choice protesters are the worst, especially in Hunstville, Alabama, where the local God-botherers get a special joy out of terrorizing children by screaming vitriol about women who terminate pregnancies. Parents of a local elementary school there report that anti-choice protesters have been targeting them as they drop their kids off at school, waving their fetus signs and yelling right wing slogans that tend not make sense unless you're immersed in their abortion-obsessed subculture.

Encouraging people to picket abortion clinics and then using the picketers as an excuse to shut down the clinics is a perfect example of how anti-choice legislators have taken to encouraging immoral and even illegal behavior, so long as it advances the cause of shutting off women's access to reproductive health care.

Now this level of shamelessness has entered the presidential race, courtesy of Ted Cruz. During Wednesday night's town hall on Fox News, Cruz outright promised to that he would, as president, offer a pardon to a notorious anti-choice activist named David Daleiden, if Daleiden is convicted of breaking multiple laws in his efforts to demonize Planned Parenthood.

Daleiden was arrested in Texas after a grand jury that was convened to look into Daleiden's allegations that Planned Parenthood is running a black market fetal tissue-selling operation. The grand jury instead decided to charge Daleiden and his associate with falsifying government documents and attempts to buy fetal tissue. Daleiden and his organization, the misleadingly named Center for Medical Progress, spent years trying to get employees at Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers on hidden camera agreeing to sell fetal tissue, and so far, they've gotten nothing. Frustrated by his inability to cajole abortion providers into breaking the law, Daleiden instead deceptively edited the videos to make it seem like the sales were happening, but repeated journalistic and governmental investigations show he has no evidence. Now he's under indictment for allegedly breaking various laws in his fruitless quest to prove that an anti-choice urban legend is real.

Cruz's willingness to excuse such a man — and to shamelessly accuse Daleiden's victims at Planned Parenthood of being a "national criminal enterprise" with absolutely no evidence for the accusation — shows the extremes that conservative politicians will go to in order to prevent women from accessing abortion or affordable contraception. That shamelessness is why abortion clinics across the country are closing, because there's no much you can do when legislators are willing to sign off on a bunch of legislation written in bad faith targeting clinics. If the Supreme Court lets Texas get away with writing a bunch of unnecessary regulations to shut down clinics, there will be nothing to stop legislators from going hog wild with the laws, effectively ending legal abortion access for millions of women across the country.

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By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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