Politics & Government

No more abortions at one Fort Worth clinic — for now

The doors at the Whole Woman’s Clinic were still open Friday, but anyone seeking an abortion was turned away.

And that’s the way it will stay at the clinic on the far west side of town — barring a court ruling — now that a federal appeals court has allowed a comprehensive abortion law to fully take effect in Texas.

Opponents of the new law vow to take their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Texas faces a healthcare crisis brought on by its legislators,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and president of Whole Woman’s Health. “Texas politicians have done the unconscionable.

“Beginning today, we will see the dire effects on women and families in Texas.”

Procedures stopped not only at the Fort Worth clinic but also at the Whole Woman’s Clinic in McAllen and any other Texas facilities that don’t meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, as required by the law. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans allowed it to take effect late Thursday.

Two years ago, Texas had more than 40 abortion clinics.

Today, it has seven or eight, according to different groups’ estimates.

“Obviously, I’m pleased with the ruling,” said Kyleen Wright of Mansfield, president of the Texans for Life Coalition, who helped push for the legislation. “This has always been about women’s health and protecting the safety of women.”

Regarding the newly closed clinics, she said, “It’s very telling that they can’t comply.”

Local clinics

Workers at the Whole Woman’s Clinic were busy calling patients Friday to cancel appointments in the coming days and weeks.

“We had to suspend abortion care services immediately,” Miller said.

Abortions aren’t performed there every week, but when they are, the clinic can typically handle 70 to 100 women over three days when the clinic is open on a weekend, Miller said.

On Friday afternoon, the parking lot was empty. A message on the clinic’s website says that “because of unnecessary restrictions passed by the Texas legislature, we are unfortunately unable to see patients at our Fort Worth location.”

The Fort Worth clinic had no abortions scheduled this weekend, but officials said workers were trying to help women with follow-up appointments, counseling or lab work.

“We are dealing with folks walking in who have questions,” Miller said. “We are looking at ways we may be able to offer help. … In no way, shape or form will we meet the need in the community for abortion services.”

Only a few clinics in Texas — one in Fort Worth, one in Austin, two in Dallas and two in Houston — now meet the legal requirements.

One local clinic remains open: the 1-year-old Planned Parenthood Southwest Fort Worth Health Center, a $6.5 million licensed ambulatory surgical center that was privately funded by North Texas contributors.

“Our facility in Fort Worth was not impacted by this ruling,” said Kelly Hart, senior director of government relations for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

House Bill 2

The new restrictions are part of House Bill 2, a comprehensive abortion law approved last year by the Republican-led Legislature.

Some say it’s one of the most stringent laws in the country. It requires abortions to be performed at ambulatory surgical centers and requires the doctors performing them to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. It also bans abortions after 20 weeks.

The measure was temporarily derailed after state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, performed a more than 11-hour filibuster that drew national attention. Despite the filibuster drama, lawmakers quickly passed the restrictions a few weeks later.

Most of the law has already been in effect. But one provision — requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, also known as day surgery centers — was scheduled to take effect Sept. 1.

In August, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin, who believed the law was geared more toward limiting access to abortion than toward protecting women, prevented that provision from taking effect.

Thursday’s court ruling lifted that stay, and an appeal of that decision is expected.

“All Texas women today have been relegated to second-class citizens,” said Stephanie Toti, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The Supreme Court will have to resolve this issue. We fully intend to keep fighting on all these fronts.”

Some said they would be happy if the fight ended here.

“We are elated by the court’s ruling allowing this much-needed protection for women’s health and safety to go into full effect,” said Karen Garnett, executive director of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, the Respect Life Ministry of the Diocese of Dallas.