Though abortion technically remains legal in all 50 states, access to it can be severely restricted depending on where a person is seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. During the new coronavirus crisis, lawmakers in certain states have attempted to enact even more restrictions on abortions, making them all but impossible to get for far too many people. Texas is one such place.
According to the most recent data available from the Guttmacher Institute, 96% of Texas counties already had zero clinics that provided abortions before the pandemic. Nearly half of Texas women live in these counties. Even if you happen to live next door to an abortion clinic in Texas, the procedure still wouldn’t automatically be easy to obtain. Someone living in Texas who is pursuing a legal abortion must first overcome a series of burdensome measures mandated by the state, including more than one visit to the clinic, an ultrasound viewing, parental consent for minors, and biased antichoice counseling. Public and private insurance companies in Texas are banned from funding abortions except in the cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest, making the procedure very costly. The difficulty of getting an abortion—emotionally, financially, and bureaucratically—is by design. And all of these mandates were already in effect before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, making abortion access even more fraught.
On March 22, during the rampant spread of COVID-19, Texas governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning medical procedures “that are not immediately medically necessary.” This included any abortions not related to life endangerment.
Abortion advocates and providers kicked into action to reinstate services as quickly as possible. Thanks in large part to these efforts, abortions have resumed in Texas, but not without their usual restrictive barriers. And the fight is far from over. Lawmakers in a host of other states are still trying to restrict abortion access in new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, advocates on the front lines of safeguarding abortion access in Texas offer insights and advice for those in other states.
“We will continue to raise and distribute money for abortion access because funding abortion is mutual aid.”
Kamyon Conner, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund
Many Texans already struggle to access abortion care due to coverage bans, lack of providers, and long travel distances. When these barriers are combined with a pandemic, we fear that even more people who need abortions will not be able to access care at all or will be unable to have support people, including abortion doulas, with them at appointments. All pregnancy care is necessary and essential—including abortion. We will continue to raise and distribute money for abortion access because funding abortion is mutual aid.
During this pandemic, abortion funds have witnessed access severely restricted to the point that some people are just not able to get their procedure. We have had callers to our helpline, reporting having to travel over 600 miles. The same people losing their jobs are calling clinics and local abortion funds to figure out how to get the abortion they want and need. Our clients have very limited incomes and are the same people losing their jobs. Many are essential workers, who are predominantly people of color.
Our strong relationships with abortion providers in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Louisiana provided us with a comprehensive understanding of the abortion landscape in our region, which helped us navigate these restrictions and support people who need abortions in Texas’s ever-changing landscape.
While the Texas barriers were in place, we held weekly virtual workshops to provide information to our supporters about the abortion landscape in Texas. We held a town hall with partner organizations to inform folks about the restrictions, followed by an Abortion 101 the next week. We also felt it was important to educate folks so they know how they can expand abortion access through advocacy, so we held a Public Policy 101 workshop. Lastly, we had a virtual happy hour with our Repro Power Dallas coalition to engage supporters to take action at the county-level by contacting their county judge to publicly support abortion access.