The natural disaster makes the impact of state's many abortion restrictions even worse.
The full scale of Hurricane Harvey's devastation will become clear in the coming weeks as Texans return from shelters and hotels to clean up their homes, or what's left of them. Adding to the stress of rebuilding after a disaster was the temporary closure of abortion clinics in Houston. The state already has multiple barriers to access abortion, including state-directed counseling with a misinformation-riddled pamphlet, 24-hour waiting periods before the procedure, and mandatory ultrasounds.
Abortion provider Whole Woman's Health announced on Friday that it would cover the cost of abortions during the month of September for women affected by Hurricane Harvey as they may have missed their appointments or may have a harder time affording care. Whole Woman's Health will provide "financial and logistical" assistance to make sure women can get to one of its four Texas clinics—in Austin, San Antonio, McAllen, and Fort Worth—and will cover travel and lodging costs, if necessary.
In a post on its blog, they wrote: "Continued political attacks on abortion access make an unwanted pregnancy particularly stressful in Texas—add that to the stress of dealing with hurricane aftermath. We can only imagine what a stressful time this must be for those patients who had to miss their appointments or are waiting for the nearest clinic to open."
The provider will use its own Stigma Relief Fund and money from the Texas-based Lilith Fund to cover the cost of care. The Lilith Fund has even created a specific emergency fund for Harvey survivors who need abortion care. People who live in areas hit by the hurricane and need abortion care can call Whole Woman's Health at 877.835.1090.
Texas is not exactly a friendly place for women's reproductive rights. This is a state where women are now required to take out "rape insurance" for abortion, after Governor Greg Abbott signed a law banning all insurance coverage of the procedure, even, unbelievably, in the cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormalities.
Whole Woman's Health is the provider that sued the state over its unconstitutional clinic shutdown laws, like HB2. They won a Supreme Court case last June which found that requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and mandating that abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers amounted to an undue burden on women's ability to access abortion care. Still, more than half of the state's clinics had shuttered since HB2 was signed in 2013 and it takes time to re-open, which can lead to longer wait times and higher costs. It's a vicious circle perpetuated by conservative lawmakers that disproportionately impacts low-income women and women of color.
Abbott also signed a law that would ban an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D&E), which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says is the most common way to terminate a pregnancy after 13 weeks. Whole Woman's Health, Planned Parenthood, and other reproductive health providers are suing the state and the ban has been temporarily blocked.
Whole Woman's Health wrote on its blog on Friday: "The need for abortion care does not stop for natural disasters."
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