Wait times to get an abortion in Texas have grown in some metropolitan areas, a trend that could be felt statewide if the U.S. Supreme Court allows the strictest provision of the state’s 2013 abortion law to take effect. That’s according to a new report by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
About half of Texas abortion clinics have closed after the passage of House Bill 2, elements of which have been tangled up in court since lawmakers approved it.
As a result, in the last year, some women in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin have waited 20 days to obtain the procedure. While wait times have remained stable and short in Houston and San Antonio, the researchers projected that they could also grow there if the Supreme Court upholds additional restrictions in the Texas abortion legislation.
Under HB2, doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. A separate provision of the law, which is now blocked from enforcement by the Supreme Court, would require Texas abortion facilities to meet the same standards as so-called ambulatory surgical centers, from minimum sizes for rooms and doorways to pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure.
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Among the wait-time research findings in the state’s metropolitan areas:
▪ Dallas has had the biggest increase in wait times since the researchers’ review began in November 2014, particularly after June, when a high-volume clinic in the area closed. Before the closure of the facility, which performed 350 to 500 abortions a month, the average wait in Dallas was about five days. After the closure, wait times grew to as long as 20 days.
▪ In Fort Worth, waits grew to as long as 23 days after the Dallas clinic closed. Before the closure, wait times crept up from six to as many as 13 days between December and February, when a Fort Worth facility temporarily stopped performing abortions.
▪ Wait times have fluctuated in Austin, which has two abortion facilities. They spiked to 20 days in December 2014 but have slowly decreased since, recently hitting an average of more than 10 days. Only one of Austin’s two clinics meets the standards of an ambulatory surgical center, so researchers project a big increase in wait times in Austin if the Supreme Court rules in the state’s favor.
▪ In Houston, wait times have averaged less than five days since November. In March, some patients waited 13 days for an appointment, but the wait times have since dropped. Like Austin, researchers predicted increased wait times depending on the court’s ruling; two of the city’s six facilities meet ambulatory surgical center standards.
▪ Wait times have also averaged less than five days in San Antonio, where three ambulatory surgical centers are providing abortion care. The longest wait occurred in January, at nine days.
“The long wait time at some of the [abortion clinics that meet ambulatory surgical center standards] suggests that these facilities are not meeting the existing demand for services,” the researchers wrote in the report.
The researchers also projected that growing wait times could significantly increase the number of abortions performed in the second trimester.
Even without long waits, women seeking abortions in Texas are up against the clock. HB2 also banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The UT research findings come as abortion providers wait for the Supreme Court to decide whether it will take up a legal challenge to the Texas abortion law; a decision is expected within weeks.
Attorneys for a coalition of abortion providers who sued the state in 2014 have argued that the restrictions are unconstitutional because they create an undue burden on women in far corners of the state, who could have to travel more than 150 miles for the procedure if the ambulatory surgical center rule took effect.
The Texas attorney general’s office has argued that the abortion restrictions are constitutional, reasonable measures meant to improve women’s health. Attorneys for the state have also said the regulations would not create an undue burden for a majority of women seeking the procedure.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the ambulatory surgical center and admitting privileges provisions in Texas’ law, granting an exemption for a McAllen clinic. In June, The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Texas abortion providers and temporarily blocked the 5th Circuit ruling, in particular prohibiting the state from enforcing the ambulatory surgical center provision.
If the Supreme Court declines to take up the Texas case, the lower court ruling would stand.