BALTIMORE - In the seven months since the most restrictive abortion law in the nation took effect in Texas, the number of abortions performed in the state has fallen dramatically. But many more Texans are now traveling out of state for the procedure — in some cases, to abortion providers more than 1,000 miles away.
Officials with Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider in Maryland and four other states, said they have treated 20 women from Texas at its facility in Baltimore so far this year.
"I've had so many patients sit here breaking down crying, because of just all the added stress, when they knew that this was the choice that they wanted to make. But in order to make that choice, they had to fly super far, and they had to spend a lot more money to do so. They have to leave their families to do so, "said Savanna Hellman, a patient advocate at Whole Woman’s Health in Baltimore.
In September, Texas banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that the law has forced 1,400 Texans a month to seek abortions in states with less restrictive laws, like Maryland, where abortions are legal up to 23 to 24 weeks.
Whole Woman’s Health works with abortion funds like Fund Texas Choice to help cover the travel, lodging, and child care costs patients can incur when getting abortions out of state. Whole Woman's Health declined to say how much financial aid has been provided. But with so many traveling from out of state, the Baltimore site has to balance seeing local patients and the surge from places like Texas.
"We’re just preparing for busier schedules, maybe longer days if needed, extending our appointment time-frames, and all of that, preparing to take on more staff if necessary. We're just scheduling as many people as we can. There's only so much availability," Hellman said.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the Texas law, signaling that it may limit or eliminate the right to abortion guaranteed by Roe vs. Wade, the court's landmark abortion decision 49 years ago.
While anti-abortion groups are encouraged, Hellman said it is disheartening to think that abortion rights may soon depend on where you live.
"They're not seeing the effect that it has on people, personally," she said. "It's really encouraging for me to keep going with this work, because I want to make sure that access is still there."
The Supreme Court is expected to decide by July whether to overturn or limit Roe vs. Wade. If it does so, additional states are expected to enact more abortion restrictions. And if more restrictions on abortion are enacted, that will likely send more patients out of their states to abortion providers like Whole Women’s Health of Baltimore.