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Monday, September 23, 2013

Texas Women’s Clinics Close In Wake Of Abortion Law

Cadence King stands in front of the now-closed Bryan Clinic. (Ben Philpott/KUT)

Cadence King stands in front of the now-closed Bryan Clinic. (Ben Philpott/KUT)

A handful of abortion clinics in Texas have closed in the weeks after the state legislature passed a controversial bill that restricts abortions.

Planned Parenthood says the closures will hurt women who came to the clinics for general health care services. But anti-abortion groups say there are other doctors for those women to go to.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Ben Philpott of KUT takes us to one community with a recently closed clinic to find out what’s changed.

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Transcript

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Sacha Pfeiffer, in for Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

A handful of women's health clinics in Texas have closed in the weeks since the state legislature there passed a bill that placed strict new requirements on health facilities that perform abortions. Planned Parenthood says the closures will hurt women who came to the clinics for general health care services. But anti-abortion groups say there are other doctors for those women to go to.

From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, KUT's Ben Philpott takes us to one community with a recently closed clinic to find out what's changed.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: Athena Mason's first doctor's visit as a student at Texas A&M University was a bit awkward. She had gone in for a basic checkup, but the physician noticed something else.

ATHENA MASON: I had a hickey and the doctor was just like, you shouldn't be doing that. And I'm like, it's - like, it's a hickey, it's nothing, you know, major. But I got a big lecture. And then I asked for birth control, and I did not hear the end of that. So I was like never mind. I will go somewhere else.

PHILPOTT: That experience led her to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan. But on August 1st, that clinic closed. Mason now drives three hours to her home in Fort Worth to see a doctor. She knows she's lucky to have that option.

MASON: Yeah, a lot of my friends have come up to me and they're like, oh, my gosh, I had an appointment next week, but it's closed now and I didn't even know.

PHILPOTT: The Bryan clinic was one of two abortion and women's health providers in Texas that closed last month, with additional clinics planning to close later this year. All of the closing clinics cited the state's new abortion law, which bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires millions in facility upgrades and makes doctors get local hospital admitting privileges, which makes Planned Parenthood client Candace King collateral damage from the new legislative restrictions.

CANDACE KING: If there's a woman that has reached a decision and she needs an abortion, she's going to find a place to go. But overall, the majority of women that are going to hurt are the ones that need just the routine health care.

PHILPOTT: Anti-abortion groups argue there are plenty of alternatives to Planned Parenthood. The group Pro-Life Aggies ran a full-page ad in the Texas A&M newspaper offering alternatives to the clinic. But many weren't taking new patients, or worse, says King, didn't deal with women's health at all.

KING: There's a long list of providers here in town. They consist of podiatrists and optometrists. And my eyes and my feet are fine.

PHILPOTT: These stories are nothing new to Jose Camacho. He's executive director of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers. He says the access problem is best summed up by one number: 23 percent. You see, back in 2011, the legislature cut funding for a state program that provides preventative care to low-income women. Since those cuts, the number of claims filed under that program are down by 23 percent.

JOSE CAMACHO: There weren't any less women that needed the service. There were just less women that got served.

PHILPOTT: This spring, the legislature added back millions for family planning. But the money hasn't shown up yet. Once it does, Camacho says restoring services will be like cleaning up after a natural disaster.

CAMACHO: The day you get your check or loan or whatever from FEMA, your house doesn't magically appear. The devastation that's been wreaked doesn't go away. You have to rebuild. And that's what we have to do.

PHILPOTT: But former Planned Parenthood client Candace King says she can't wait much longer. She's been visiting the Bryan clinic since 1998 after she was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on her cervix. Since the clinic closed, she's missed a couple of her regular scheduled visits because she's having trouble finding another provider.

KING: There are some decisions that I need to make. Sticking your head in the sand is only good for so long.

PHILPOTT: So far, her options are driving three hours to another a clinic or making an appointment with the one clinic in Bryan willing to take her. But its next open appointment is about four months away. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Ben Philpott in Austin, Texas.

PFEIFFER: We'll be back in one minute. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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