When the U.S. Supreme Court issued the 5-3 ruling banning key provisions of Texas law HB 2 on June 27, women’s healthcare advocates and providers across Tarrant County breathed a sigh of relief.
Since the controversial law was passed in 2013, access to safe, legal abortion for Tarrant County women has been jeopardized by the Texas Legislature’s inappropriate mandates.
Abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures performed in the U.S.
As the U.S. Supreme Court referenced in its ruling against Texas’ mandates, “abortions taking place in an abortion facility are safe — indeed, safer than numerous procedures … to which Texas does not apply its … requirements.”
In other words, other medical procedures with health risks, including colonoscopies and liposuction, have not been subjected to similar restrictions.
To arrive at this conclusion, the court relied on expert testimony gathered from 43 amicus briefs filed with the case that challenged the political basis for the law and carefully debunked the myths behind Texas’ controversial mandates.
These included the medical expertise of such organizations as the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Information provided by these experts underscored what happens when healthcare is dictated by politics, rather than medical and public health goals: Health centers close, women have to wait weeks for an appointment and women consider risky alternatives, including pills purchased online or across the U.S. border.
After reviewing the evidence, the U.S. Supreme Court majority found that Texas’ controversial abortion restrictions “vastly increase the obstacles confronting women seeking abortions in Texas without providing any benefit to women’s health capable of withstanding any meaningful scrutiny.”
Texas’ mandates were cited by legislators who supported them as necessary to “protect” women’s health, despite a striking lack of medical testimony, health data or research to back this claim.
The rhetoric was politically based, not backed by medical or scientific data, and it had a negative impact on real women’s lives.
Since the passage of HB 2, the number of health centers in Texas providing safe, legal abortion has dropped from about 40 to fewer than 20.
Planned Parenthood’s health center in southwest Fort Worth has been open since before the passage of HB 2 and has remained open throughout, but our patients have been affected by longer waits and other challenges created by having fewer health centers open to serve women.
Our patients face barriers to preventive healthcare screenings and birth control created by the Texas Legislature.
When the Legislature dismantled the healthcare safety net to meet political goals, our patients lost access to the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, Medicaid Women’s Health Program and other grants designed to help uninsured and low-income women access clinical breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, HIV tests, treatment for sexually transmitted infections and birth control.
Private funders have stepped in where politicians created gaps in the healthcare system. Again, politics drove public health policies and women’s health lost out.
Until the Supreme Court issued its decision.
The ruling is what many of us in Tarrant County had been waiting for, recognition that women’s healthcare deserves respect, that the right to make private medical decisions is fundamental and that medical science, not politics, should be the basis for Texas’ public health policies.
When that happens, Tarrant County women win.
Frances Lyle is chairman, Cathy Holt is public affairs committee chairman and Don L. Smith, M.D., is a member of the Planned Parenthood Greater Texas Fort Worth Community Board.