Getting An Abortion in Texas

austinSome, but generally not most, of the people in this story have had their roles reduced or removed, because I want this story to be about bodies, the state and medicine, rather than my messy personal life. I use the term “women” in several places to mean “people who can get pregnant/people who seek abortions” for the grammatical simplicity; though the majority of people seeking abortions are women, I don’t want to overlook the fact that some people who get pregnant are not women.

It was January 29, 2013 at 11 p.m. when the pain started. A dull throbbing ache in my left lower abdomen that could have been indigestion or cramping. It was uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and I thought the best thing to do was go to sleep. I had flown into Austin the day before, I was tired and in a new place and the next day was my birthday; I wanted to be well-rested. But every time I lay down–right side, left side, front, back–I would come up gasping for air in seconds, unable to breathe for no apparent reason. Sitting upright was fine. I sat upright until 1 a.m. trying to understand what was happening to me. Finally I got online, and looked up hospitals that would take my out-of-state health insurance. The friend I was staying with drove me to the hospital. I remember noticing how warm it was outside for January. I remember wondering how much this was going to cost.

No one likes hospitals. I was cranky and exhausted and frustrated and when the emergency room nurse asked me for my birthday to fill out the preliminary paperwork, I burst into tears. “Today, today is my birthday,” I said, and she said, “I’m sure everything is going to be fine.” She weighed me, I told her what medications I was on and for how long (birth control, six years; Relpax as needed for migraines; two years). We were sent to an exam room. We waited. A nurse came and took my blood and urine samples, she wished me a happy birthday. I wished I would pass out, if only to be able to sleep.

A doctor came in–young, white, pretty; her eyeshadow matched her scrubs–and she asked my friend to step into the hall. She looked at me, without sympathy, and said, “You’re pregnant.” I really wished I would pass out.

Someone once said to me that the difference between the North and the South is that in the North, it’s fine if your daughter has sex, as long as she doesn’t get pregnant. In the South, you’d better not catch your daughter having sex, but if she gets pregnant, that’s just what happens: it’s not ideal, but everyone gets along as well as they can. I was a Yankee girl, six weeks out of college, 14 weeks pregnant in a state where I didn’t know what laws and what morality dictated the next few minutes of conversation with this doctor, barely older than me, who had chosen to work in a Catholic hospital.

I asked her to let my friend back in the room. She said a technician would come back for an ultrasound.

I don’t know how to tell you about the mixture of resignation and panic that started to overwhelm me. I had just graduated from college with nearly $20,000 in debt. I had no job. I had only started flossing a month ago. There was no moment where I “weighed my options,” because never for a moment was having a baby a feasible option for me. My immediate instinct was to try to remember how much money was in my bank account. I did not take the decision lightly, but nor did it feel like a choice. Before the technician came in, I had made up my mind.

What the doctor actually meant by “a technician will come back for the ultrasound” was “a strange man will come back, take you into an even colder room, and insert a camera into your vagina while another nurse ostensibly watches but really plays Words with Friends on her phone.” He didn’t say anything, and I shook the whole time, from cold and because I didn’t know if this was medically necessary. To this day, I don’t know if the medical procedure I was given was for legitimate medical reasons, or if it was state-sanctioned, state-required rape. Does it matter? Do I want to know? Will finding out the specifics of what laws, religious doctrines and politics were in play that night help me feel better?

The technician wouldn’t turn the monitor towards me and I was afraid to look until they were wheeling me out. When I finally glimpsed it, I saw nothing, nothing resembling the collection of traitorous cells that had apparently been growing inside of me since Thanksgiving. I did not know what to think. I had been awake for 17 hours.

We waited longer this time for the doctor to come back, I lost track of what time it actually was. It remains unclear to me if you are allowed to use cell phones in hospitals or not; mine was dead anyway. I’m a Millennial, I don’t wear a watch.

The doctor came back and said several things very rapidly. She said You Have an Ectopic Pregnancy Attached to Your Left Fallopian Tube and We Are Going to Have to Remove It Either By Giving You a Pill to Force it to Rupture Or Surgery Because It Has Already Ruptured And I Am Pretty Sure It Has Already Ruptured Because The Reason You Can’t Go to Sleep Is that Your Stomach is Full of Blood and It’s Starting to Irritate Your Lungs And Do You Have Any Abdominal Pain Yeah Uh-Huh That’s What That Is So I Will Come Back Soon With the Other OB/GYNs and We Will Decide What to Do Okay But You Are Stable Right Now Okay You Aren’t In Danger Right Now Okay and I burst into tears again because now I didn’t have to try to get an abortion in Texas.

At least I could have. At least, in Austin, the capital of Texas, there were clinics I could’ve gone to, there were Planned Parenthoods and there were abortion funds I could have applied for, combined with my own savings. At least SB1/HB2–the notorious omnibus anti-abortion law that State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered in July–had not yet passed the Texas legislature, putting more financial and practical barriers between women and their right to choose. At least I wasn’t past 24* weeks; at least I was in a city. There are 36 reported abortion-performing facilities in Texas (down from 42 in 2011)–92% of Texas counties don’t have an abortion provider at all.

It is likely that 30 or more clinics will be forced to close in the next year under the provisions of HB2. The law requires doctors working at clinics to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Given that the Catholic Church operates many of the hospitals in rural Texas and often refuses to give admitting privileges to doctors working at practices that offer abortions (and that due to a lack of qualified doctors to perform abortions, traveling/visiting physicians are often not allowed local admitting privileges), this provision alone could close a dozen clinics. HB2 also requires that clinics adhere to the standards of surgical centers.  5 clinics in Texas meet this standard currently: They are all in major cities.**

If 30 clinics close, Texas will have a health crisis in short order. These facilities provide low-cost gynecological exams, birth control, domestic abuse resources, rape counseling, STI/STD testing, emergency contraception, breast exams, LBGT education and support services and, yes, in some places men’s sexual health services. Texas already ranks 5th nationwide in teen births (#3 in teen pregnancies) and 1st in recurring teen pregnancy. Over 14% of all babies born to teen moms under the age of 15 in the United States occur in Texas. STD/STI rates will skyrocket; breast and ovarian cancers will go undetected. HB2 also requires that anyone seeking chemical abortions–RU-486–take the pill under the supervision of a doctor rather than being able to obtain the pill and go home, which means that a person must visit the clinic multiple days, up to 4 in total. If you can’t afford to stay the nights in a hotel–take the time off work, or travel to the clinic every day for 3 days–you’re out of luck.

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