A Texas court once again shuffled the deck last week for women in the state as it dealt with various decisions that have effectively left them in legal limbo.
Amid the uncertainty, pro-life charities and abortion clinics have attempted to adapt while taking on markedly different levels of clients. The heartbeat law, which effectively serves as a six-week abortion ban, is expected to dramatically reduce the number of abortions in the state — leaving community organizations with a likely spike in crisis pregnancies.
Loveline, a Houston-based charity started by former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson, told Fox News it saw a 50% nationwide increase in calls in the month after Texas’ law was enacted on Sept. 1. Thirty-three percent of those came from Texas.
Houston Pregnancy Help Center (HPHC) provided data on Thursday showing that it saw increases across multiple categories from September 2020 to the same month this year. For example, ultrasounds increased 50% (244 to 365). It also saw a 42% increase in client visits (1,026 to 1,466) and over 20% increases in pregnancy tests performed, in “abortion-minded” or “abortion-vulnerable” clients, and in women who chose not to have abortions.
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Those groups, like many others in the state, offer material and financial help (rental assistance, housing, utilities, etc.) to women in crisis pregnancies. Texas had around 200 pregnancy help centers in 2019, according to the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. Those reportedly doled out an estimated $33 million in materials and services and served around 180,000 women, men, youth and families.
Facilities like HPHC also employ medical staff and mental health professionals. That particular center commits to staying with women until their children are 3 years old, reflecting a growing trend of pro-life charities committing to provide more than initial services. Like others, they also provide post-abortion counseling if the mother makes that decision.
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“Our service is not contingent upon what choice she makes,” HPHC CEO Sylvia Johnson told Fox News. “We’re going to serve her if she continues the pregnancy, and we’re going to serve her if she decides to terminate the baby. We’re not going to pay for the abortion and we’re not going to refer her to an abortion clinic.”
“But if she chooses to terminate her pregnancy, that does not stop us from helping her maybe with her other children, maybe in the future — that’s who we are. That’s our heart.”
Opponents highlight legal uncertainty, effect on abortion providers
Texas’ law, like heartbeat bills, can be confusing as it limits abortion based on cardiac activity rather than a standard number of weeks. As many critics have noted, women may not even know they are pregnant at six weeks.
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Complicating matters is the atypical enforcement mechanism, which relies on the willingness of private citizens to file lawsuits. The lack of centralized enforcement, however, has apparently had a similar effect. Abortion clinics are reportedly turning patients away in response to the new legal environment.
“The threat and intimidation that are structured into this bill have been remarkable,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, reportedly said. “Our physicians and staff are thinking about what might be done to them and what they might have to defend. It’s cruel.”
Concerns have also been raised about how the law impacts the way citizens relate to each other. The Los Angeles Times, for example, penned an editorial worrying that it turned private citizens into “anti-abortion vigilantes.” An article in “Third Way” similarly warned the new ban “sicks bounty hunters on women and doctors.”
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Ken Paxton, Texas’ Republican attorney general, pushed back on claims that the law divided communities and led private citizens to harass each other.
“I think it’s laughable,” he told Fox News in an interview last month. “The reality is the court system was created so that we would address things in a civil manner — which is in court — and not go harm each other. You could argue that the harm being done before this law was babies being killed … and now, all of that’s going to be addressed civilly as opposed to just allowing the bludgeoning of these babies.”
At the same time, current challenges have also fostered a feeling of cooperation and teamwork among pro-life charities, multiple people in the field told Fox News.
“With the help of our national affiliates NIFLA and Carenet, the pregnancy centers in Texas are linking arms to provide a safety net for women who feel like their options are limited,” said Jennifer Shelton, who leads Real Options in McAllen. “We want them to know that we have always been here for them and will continue to be.”
Last month, Loveline hosted a workshop with dozens of pregnancy centers represented among attendees. Pam Whitehead, who leads Loveline, told Fox News that she and Abby Johnson started planning the conference around the time of the law’s enactment in September. It focused on providing tips for pro-life charities as well as detailing Loveline’s case management process for helping pregnant women. Documents shared with Fox News included guidelines for helping women in abusive and other difficult situations.
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As pro-life centers see more clients, they’ll likely encounter longstanding criticism that they allegedly deceive women.
A 2015 report from NARAL stated: “The American anti-choice movement has built thousands of outposts across the country with the sole purpose of preventing women from accessing abortion (through lies and coercion,) and they’re hiding in plain sight.”
Several charities – including Houston Pregnancy Help Center and Thrive Women’s Clinic in Dallas – told Fox News they clearly notify patients that their center doesn’t perform abortions.
“They know they’re not getting that here,” said Thrive Women’s Clinic Executive Director Mary Jayne Fogerty. “We’ve already told them on the phone that we don’t perform or refer for abortions, but come here, find out if you’re really pregnant — we’ll do everything for free.”
“Know your options,” she said in a message to pregnant women. “Make an informed decision. They may leave here and have an abortion. That’s not our heart for them.”
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Fogerty’s center, like others in the state, is a part of the national affiliate known as NIFLA. NIFLA President Thomas Glessner, whose organization was involved in a Supreme Court case over referrals at pro-life centers, previously told Fox News that deception is “never an option” for his affiliates. “They must be truthful and honest at all times,” he said.
The road forward and hopes for a ‘post-Roe’ America
Despite pro-life hopes, the total number of Texas women seeking abortions won’t completely collapse. Abortion providers in Louisiana and Colorado have already reported increases in the number of women coming to their clinics.
Texas’ experience could foreshadow the predicament other states’ abortion clinics will be in if the Supreme Court alters longstanding precedent on the issue. The court in December is expected to hear oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case many observers have described as an opportunity for conservative justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.
And earlier this week, the Biden Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to take up the Texas bill after it allowed the law to take effect in September. On Friday, the court declined to take up the case but granted an expedited review for Nov. 1.
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Overturning or weakening Roe wouldn’t eliminate abortion access, but allow states to start passing legislation to restrict the procedure. States like Louisiana also have “trigger laws” designed to immediately restrict abortion in the event that Roe is overturned.
Depending on the laws of a particular state and its neighbors, women could face prohibitively long travel times to obtain abortions. That makes Texas even more salient as it offers a limited preview of how communities will need to cope with additional pregnancies.
Pro-life charities have reported an uptick in services and questions regarding abortion’s legal status after the state’s heartbeat legislation took effect.
Loveline’s Whitehead told Fox News: “In the month of October, so far the numbers are even greater every week … For instance just this week we had 46 women reach out for help. That is not typical. Usually we see 15 a week. The numbers are steadily increasing.”
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In mid-September, multiple charities, like Hope Women’s Center in McKinney, told Fox News that they saw a frenzy of calls before the law took effect. Mary Jayne Fogarty, who leads Thrive Women’s Clinic in Dallas, recalled how she saw an uptick in calls after the bill was signed into law this year.
“We had a flurry of people a little bit panicked … now that it’s in effect, it’s remained about the same — maybe a decline of calls because people know [they can’t get abortions],” she said.
Long active in the state where Roe v. Wade originated, the pro-life community sees a potentially unprecedented challenge on the horizon. The Supreme Court’s decision in September allowed Texas’ law to remain in place but left open the possibility that women could obtain the procedure in nearby states. A preliminary estimate suggests that Texas’ law could prevent roughly 132 procedures per day, or 4,009 per month from occurring within the state.
According to KPRC 2, Louisiana’s Hope Medical Clinic said their consults “pretty much doubled” while the number of Texas patients increased from 20% to 50%. On Monday, Planned Parenthood of Rocky Mountains (PPRM) told Fox News that it had seen 168 patients from Texas since Sept. 1 — a 130% increase over August. That affiliate includes Southern Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.
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Shortly after the law’s enactment, PPRM President & CEO Vicki Cowart offered services to Texas residents.
“The first and most urgent message I have for Texas patients, Texas providers, and all those who will be impacted by this draconian law is this: We stand with you, and we are here for you,” she said.
“This law limits access to the health care that is a human right based on the arbitrary fact of one’s zip code. It also isolates patients by placing their entire support network in potential legal jeopardy. It’s extreme, cruel, and stands in stark contrast to the strong support the vast majority Americans have for abortion care in this country. Today, our hearts are with Texas patients. Here in the Rocky Mountain region, our health center doors are open to anyone who seeks high-quality, compassionate health care, no matter where they live.”
But with a more sweeping decision, the court could effectively gut or overturn Roe — allowing PPRM’s states and others to limit access even further than they already do.
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While it’s difficult to predict exact outcomes, Texas’ latest law has already offered a glimpse into what that could look like for both abortion clinics and pro-life charities.
Loveline, which is based in Houston but serves women across the country, told Fox News that it provided $105,000 in baby registries and household goods from January through September of this year. Its assistance included 254 hours of therapy, more than $9,000 in scholarships for single moms, $74,777 in rental assistance and claims to have saved 11 babies from abortion and served more than 437 women in 2021.
Yet and still, Sylvia Johnson says the movement has work to do before it can fully respond to “post-Roe” challenges.
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First and foremost, she said the movement should focus on adoption education for minority women, as well as greater willingness to adopt their children. “These are women that have been targeted by the abortion industry … we have to somehow remove that stigma,” she said.
She added that the movement needed easier access to prenatal care, support for education through scholarships and infrastructure like child care.