Report: Antiabortion Law Leads to Longer Wait Times at Clinics

When you pass a law that, in one fell swoop, shutters half the abortion clinics in a state the size of Texas, one pretty obvious consequence is that women seeking the procedure might have to wait longer to get an appointment at the clinics that did manage to keep their doors open.

House Bill 2, the omnibus abortion law the Texas Legislature passed in 2013 despite Wendy Davis’s famous midnight filibuster, isn’t even fully enacted yet. Still, according to a report released Monday by researchers at the University of Texas, some Texas women are already waiting as long as 20 days to get an appointment at an abortion clinic, compared to the pre-HB2 average wait time of five days.

Researchers, with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), warn that wait times across the state are expected to get even worse if the courts allow Texas to enact HB 2’s final provision, the coup de grace that could shutter all but eight abortion clinics in the state.

According to TxPEP’s findings, wait times currently appear to be the worst in Austin and Dallas, where half of abortion clinics closed shop due to the provisions of HB 2 that haven’t been blocked by the courts (like the requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic). Researchers found shorter, reasonable wait times at clinics in Houston and San Antonio, but that will likely change if the U.S. Supreme Court fails to intervene in the ongoing legal battle over the law’s strictest provision, which requires that clinics make costly upgrades to turn their facilities into ambulatory surgical centers. Opponents of the law cite the dearth of evidence that abortions in surgical centers are any safer than those performed in a standard clinic, and argue the law was clearly designed to curtail abortions.

Despite a lower court judge’s ruling that called HB 2 unconstitutional, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this summer upheld the law. (Quite remarkably, judges reasoned that the nearly 1 million Texas women of reproductive age who would be harmed by the full implementation of the law do not constitute “a large fraction” of Texas women.)

On Monday, state Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the legal challenge abortion providers filed with the court after the Fifth Circuit ruling. Whether the court hears the case will likely affect wait times at abortion clinics in Houston, according to the TxPEP researchers.

While Houston currently has six abortion clinics, only two of those meet HB 2’s ambulatory surgical center requirements. That means women going to a Houston-area abortion clinic, where nearly 40 percent of the state’s abortions are performed, could be forced to wait 20 days for an appointment if the Supreme Court doesn't stop HB 2's final provision.

Researchers also say increased wait times at clinics will likely lead to more second-trimester abortions. As the researchers state in their report: “The increase in second-trimester abortion is concerning from a public health perspective, since later abortions, although very safe, are associated with a higher risk of complications compared to early abortions. Later abortion procedures are also significantly more costly to women.”

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Barajas
Contact: Michael Barajas