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With Abortion Clinics Closing, ‘People Are Really Desperate Now’

As clinics turn women away, volunteer abortion funds are scrambling to help their clients.
by Published on
Kat Craft
Jen Reel
Kat Craft

Though she wasn’t scheduled to work until the next day, Kat Craft, part-time hotline coordinator for the Lilith Fund, decided to check her work email on Oct. 31. She was in for an unpleasant surprise. An emergency ruling by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding House Bill 2 had made it illegal for doctors to perform abortions in Texas without admitting privileges to nearby hospitals. As a result, up to a third of abortion clinics had suddenly closed. Most of Craft’s clients had abortions scheduled for the next day and now her inbox was jammed with messages from the Lilith Fund board. Everyone was scrambling to find out which clients had abruptly lost their provider.

As an abortion fund, the volunteer-run organization offers small financial grants to women who need abortions but can’t afford them. If a woman qualifies for financial help from the Lilith Fund, a caseworker like Kat Craft will fax a voucher directly to the woman’s chosen abortion clinic. Given the enormous need for financial aid in Texas, the Lilith Fund finances only women days away from their abortion procedure.

But the Fifth Circuit’s ruling on Texas’ anti-abortion bill was causing major confusion for Craft. Which clinics were still open and able to process the vouchers? Were appointments being pushed back or canceled? What would happen to clients already up against the 20-week abortion limit? How much farther could women travel? On Friday morning, the day after the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, Craft and Lilith Fund staff began phoning abortion clinics to find out.

In Dallas, Merritt Tierce and her team were doing the same thing. Tierce is the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, an abortion fund that serves North Texas (the Lilith Fund serves Texans south of Austin). “I called all the clinics myself,” Tierce said, “and I was impressed by how much confusion there was among them.” Few seemed to know which clinics were open and some staffers didn’t know whether they were taking clients. Tierce found that overnight, Tarrant County residents, who have roughly 5,000 abortions per year, were without an abortion provider. Two out of five clinics in Dallas closed. A few providers mistakenly told women that other clinics were shut when they were in fact still taking patients.

Such confusion is widespread. Even days after the law went into effect, there still isn’t a definitive count of how many abortion clinics are open. A coalition of women’s health advocates who challenged the admitting privileges law in court argued that up to a dozen clinics would close. Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, said that 14 clinics had stopped providing abortions. This number could go up or down as physicians gain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals or as their shift availability decreases (some physicians are itinerant and cover a wide geographic region). What’s clear is that no physicians in West Texas, the Panhandle, the Rio Grande Valley or between El Paso and Interstate 35 can provide abortions for lack of hospital admitting privileges. In this bleak and rapidly shifting landscape, women trying to navigate abortion access are lost.

“We haven’t ever seen anything quite as dramatic as this,” said Megan Peterson, deputy director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a nationwide umbrella group that represents abortion funds like Lilith and Texas Equal Access. “With so many clinics closing so suddenly, the loss is huge.”

Some women had no idea it was coming. When the Texas Equal Access Fund’s intake coordinator, Kamyon Connor, called the clients who had upcoming appointments, she was the first person to tell them that their clinic had closed. Women responded with disbelief, shock, fear and anger. However, many Lilith Fund clients didn’t seem surprised when they got the call. Many had already been contacted by their clinics, and Craft noted that their chief emotion seemed to be frustration. Some women had figured out which clinic they could go to but didn’t know how they would get there.

On Friday, Aspen Webster, a hotline volunteer for the Lilith Fund, spoke to a working mother of three who was 19 weeks pregnant and rapidly approaching the limit at which she could legally have an abortion in Texas. (House Bill 2 bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation. That provision went into effect on Nov. 1 and has not been challenged in court.) She was scheduled to go to a clinic in Houston that day but the clinic, a 45-minute drive from her home, had postponed her appointment until Monday. Then on Monday the clinic canceled the appointment altogether and referred her to another provider, this one three and half hours away. The woman had no idea how she would find childcare or get the extra time off work she now needed. In McAllen, another Lilith Fund client whose local clinic closed was referred to a clinic in San Antonio, a four-hour drive away. Craft increased the voucher by another $100, but the woman was despondent, saying that the transport and accommodation challenges required to get to San Antonio were insurmountable for her. A third Lilith Fund client was driving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, because she was at the legal limit for abortion and couldn’t afford to wait.

Women now face more than just extra travel. Those transferring to different providers must undergo a second state-mandated sonogram, costing roughly $100, and another 24-hour wait to satisfy abortion restrictions enacted in 2011.

“The amount we usually offer to clients in their first trimester is between $80 and $120, and much of that goes toward the cost of the sonogram,” Tierce said. “Now they have to pay for that again, and it doubles their need for financial help. This extra cost is a major hardship for our clients.”

Neither abortion fund knows whether their clients will undergo the abortions they’d  planned for. Only once the procedure goes ahead will the clinic redeem the abortion fund voucher. “We won’t know for a while yet whether those women were able to jump through all the extra hoops,” Tierce said. She expects that few of them will. Likewise, Craft expects the number of calls coming into the Lilith Fund to drop. “Most of our referrals come through the abortion clinics, but if they are closed, women won’t know where to go for help,” she said.

For this reason, the Lilith Fund plans to expand its mission. Previously, caseworkers would work with only women who already had abortions scheduled. Now they plan to call anyone who contacts the hotline for help. With safe, legal abortions so much harder to find in Texas, the Lilith Fund is becoming not just a source of financial aid but also a navigator for women in distress. Tierce noted that there are now so many legal and logistical barriers that she doesn’t blame women if they give up. “I’m grateful that anyone still calls us expecting that we can help,” she said.

Conversely, anti-abortion groups are buoyed by the enactment of the admitting privileges requirement believing that it reinforces a “culture of life”. But although the new law has reduced provider capacity significantly, it has probably done little to reduce abortion demand. “Everyone who calls us today needs more help than before,” Tierce said. “People are really desperate now.”

  • don76550

    I’m sure all the babies whose lives were now saved are just desperate to find another moral invalid to murder them.

    • Crysta

      I hope you are donating a couple hundred dollars a month to PAY for those “babies you saved” that will need 18 years of supporting now…

      You helped cause this, you help pay for it, douche!

      • don76550

        You are probably too stupid to know there is such a thing as birth control. If you plan on continuing to run through life leading with your crotch you should probably consider it. I would be delighted to pay an extra tax to have people like you involuntarily sterilized. Then you can feel free to bounce your crotch on whatever you like with impunity.

        • Crysta

          Tell that to your wife… Or maybe you would like to volunteer to be sterilized first…

          Guess what, the ONLY way to make abortion unnecessary, is for EVERYONE to have sex ONLY for procreative purpose. So, almost no sex EVER! (Well, at least for straight encounters) unless you get snipped…

          Enjoy your celibacy, while I snuggle up with my girlfriend ^_^

          • Mskby

            The problem with these fuckers is that they make birth control as hard to get as abortion then have the nerve to make statements such as the above.

          • don76550

            Simply not true.

          • texasaggie

            Right on! If you want any more evidence, see the federal suits that are now advancing about insurance companies paying for contraception, and the TX state policy of abstinence education only, and closing down the clinics that used to provide contraception. Anyone who argues that the anti-abortionists are procontraception is just flat out dishonest. There is no other option.

        • Annah Walsh

          Wouldn’t it be nice if the same people that were telling these women that they should have used birth control weren’t the same ones limiting access to it? Can we say Planned Parenthood? Not to mention that hormonal birth control effectiveness varies from woman to woman. Also, some women are at very high risk for deadly side effects (blood clots) because of their genetics. What you have suggested with forced sterilization is not funny either. As a sterile person I would never wish that anyone have their reproductive freedoms taken away. Not to mention that the vast majority of Anti Choice or “Pro life” people aren’t really “Pro Life”. They are more along the lines of Pro Zygote/fetus, because after it is born they don’t care if that child has access to food, healthcare, or anything that it might need. Here take a lesson from Elmo and learn how to really be Pro Life.

          • don76550

            There is no limitation on access to birth control, just another lie from moral invalids who get their jollies by killing babies. Incidently the gene pool has been improved by the fact you are sterile. Do you feel left out that you can’t have a baby to abort?

          • texasaggie

            Your statement shows that you really don’t know what you are talking about and puts everything else you said to question. Do you really want to do that?

          • texasaggie

            Very good.

        • Ibicella Lutae

          Speaking from experience, the medical community has a very strong bias against sterilizing people even if you volunteer for it.

          And contraception is honestly not that easy to get. When you don’t have insurance and the nearest sliding-scale clinic is many hours away, you’re pretty S.O.L. in obtaining those pills. You have to rely on condoms, and those aren’t as effective.

          I hope you are also raising your voice in making sure that contraception becomes easy to access. Otherwise you’re just continuing to offer the unborn up for sacrifice and paying lip service to their graves.

    • texasaggie

      The problem is that now that they are born, you and your kind are doing everything you can to see that they die. Have you voted to support increasing Food Stamps and WIC? Have you complained to Goodhair about his decision to cut Medicaid instead of expanding it? Have you seen to it that the clinics that used to provide prenatal care to expectant mothers are fully funded and even expanded?

      Didn’t think so.

  • fatibel

    I’d love it if the anti-abortion folks would stop talking about a culture of life and start talking about a culture of support, for instance, for a working mother with three children, all of whom will probably go to bed hungry now that they have to share with one more. I can’t spare time to mourn for children who don’t yet exist. I’m too busy worrying about how we treat those that are already here and the self-righteous who regularly kick them in the face.

  • Ibicella Lutae

    We have to start realizing we’re all on the same side. We’re all working to reduce abortions. Our personal ethics might be different, but the goal’s the same: We want to have less need for abortion.

    We have the means of reducing them without oppressing or killing anybody. We’re tackling the wrong end of the hydra.

    We have to focus on reducing unwanted pregnancies if we want to eliminate abortion. Abortion for dire medical needs — well, I doubt will ever go away. But we have no excuses to keep bickering and being cruel to each other.

    Support easy access to contraception, sex-education, welfare, health care, and reducing sexual stigma and abortion rates will drop.

    • texasaggie

      That is too simple. The fact that countries (Western Europe) where sex education and contraception is ubiquitous have abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates small fractions of the US rate doesn’t register on these Puritanical religionists. They do faith, not fact, and they really don’t care about abortions. They’re only interested in controlling people’s sex lives.

      Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. H.L. Mencken

      • Ibicella Lutae

        In my experience, there are two kinds of pro-lifers. The first kind is what you said. They are the uber-religious types using concern for the unborn to mete out punishment for the world in the name of their morals. Don’t worry, I have no expectations in ever reaching these types. Self-righteousness is a very powerful drug.

        The second kind though, are the folks who are honestly concerned for the welfare of humanity and are lost amongst the rhetoric and propaganda. They feel like babies are being murdered, but they have never really had a chance to hear about what other countries have done to achieve low-abortion rates. These are the folks who usually become the “Personally pro-life, politically pro-choice” types once they finally get some legitimate information.

        • GuBEE

          I turn the personally Pro-Life types to fully Pro-Life with ease, those that I cannot, are usually anarchists.

          Human lives are killed in abortion, one late term doctor admits it, and I am friends with others that have worked in the industry all too closely. There are things that can be taken from both strategies to achieve low abortion rates, but providing legal abortion has just made abortion rates skyrocket. We’ve killed an estimated ~56,000,000 in this country since 1973.

          The vast majority of “Back-Alley” abortions were done by doctors and were already mostly safe, since the invention of antibiotics and blood transfusions. Those done in clinics now are not much safer, as the abortion industry fights common sense health regulations and inspections tooth and nail.

          • Ibicella Lutae

            Abortion and infanticide has been practiced for centuries. It hasn’t skyrocketed since 1973, it’s just been able to be recorded with a much better degree of accuracy…though really, it’s still not that great. There are still lots of abortions that are still being done back-alley due to stigma against it, so the rate is actually higher than the 56 million reported.

            I never really have understood why it gets brought up that it’s human life. I’ve been working in this debate and for reproductive rights for…geez, 15 years now? I’ve never heard in all that time anybody anywhere say it’s NOT human or alive. It just seems like a moot point to me since we live in a world that kills people of all ages for all kind of reasons. That’s why we’re working to reduce it.

            The vast majority of back-alley abortions were NOT safe. There used to be entire wards of hospitals dedicated to treating infections from back-alley abortions LONG after the inventions of antibiotics and blood transfusions. Those wards still exist in many hospitals around the world in countries that ban abortion.

            There is no “industry” of abortion. It’s a surgery. The industry that provides that service is called “the medical industry.”

      • GuBEE

        I don’t think they are about controlling people’s sex lives, but I think they often have unrealistic expectations, and need to focus more on teaching people the right way, than fighting the wrong way.

    • GuBEE

      We are not all on the same side, some are very pro-abortion and would like to see more abortion, usually these folks are fit into one or more of these categories:
      Utilitarians that believe we are better without disabled people
      Those who are Pro-Choice in heart, but believe more abortion gives Pro-Choicers more money to use to keep abortion legal
      Environmental extremists who believe killing humans is the best way to solve environmental problems.

      I support contraception, (abstinence stressed, but not only) sex-education…

      Did you know Obama and Hillary have both voted against covering unborn children in the CHIP program? How many children were aborted on those grounds?

      …health care, and I used to work at a gay bar and don’t understand sexual stigma. :)

      The reality is that abortion rates went up when contraception use went up, as people use abortion for the safety net when contraception fails, which it does frequently.

      • Ibicella Lutae

        I don’t care too much if people want more abortion or less abortion or what their personal ideas are. There are a lot of crazies out there. Opinions are like bones; everyone has them. I only care about whether they actually support people having freedom of choice or not and that our governments set policies in place to protect the freedom of decisions about reproduction to women and their doctors. By and large, most people for whatever reason would like to see less crisis pregnancy occurring in the world.

        If anybody pro-choice or anti-choice thinks they are, they are grossly misinformed. Abortions are not money making ventures. It costs about $300 to $600 on average to get one compared to the many thousands of dollars it takes to give adequate care for a pregnant woman. There aren’t enough women coming in day to day for abortions at any given clinic to create a functioning business out of it unless they are one of the tiny handful of late-term crisis pregnancy specialists in the entire country like the late Dr. Tiller was. Otherwise, OB/GYNs and clinics make the bulk of their revenue from prenatal care and delivery costs for women intending to give birth and from doing other kinds of exams and health care services. FAR more demand for both.

        The CHIP program wouldn’t be useful to the unborn anyway. At that stage, it’s called “Prenatal care.” The CHIP program isn’t designed for coverage of adults.

        Contraception does not “fail frequently.” The link you provided is specifically about women having abortions, not women on contraception in general.

        Where are you seeing abortion went up when contraception use went up? I’d like to take a look at that. The link you provided doesn’t make that correlation.

    • Andrea Strong

      We are definitely NOT all on the same side. The antiabortion movement is about enforcing traditional patriarchal roles, enslaving women to forced motherhood, and part of how you know that is that they ARE ALSO OPPOSED to birth control and scientific sex-education! Its not about babies, its not about “life,” and its not even really about abortion. They don’t really care about reducing abortion rates, they care about control of women, and slamming women backwards into the Dark Ages, and their Bible is a reflection of the kind of world they want to see (which btw, there’s a little story in that book about how God commands Moses to go back into the enemy’s camp and “bash in the heads of the babies.” Remember that the next time they throw around the term ‘baby-killer,’ and remind them of that command from god.)

      The more that people recognize that this is a two-sided fight, the more that people who are confused about abortion and why it matters, can recognize which side they fall out on, AND the more that people care about the liberation and ability for women to self-determine the course of their own lives and futures, the more they can come out on THAT side of this fight…and right now it is imperative that people know abortion rights are in an URGENT state of emergency, and the anti’s are actually winning right now. And people need to know what that will mean for women, and how forced motherhood throughout society actually murders women, and forecloses the futures and dreams of women that see no other possibilities other than motherhood in their future. Women are not incubators. Women are full human beings capable of participating and contributing to ALL spheres of society, and we can turn the tide of this fascist tsunami of anti-abortion BS laws that are being codified into law right now. The future is undetermined, and its up to us to fight for women to have abortion on demand and with NO apology!

  • texasaggie

    I’m glad the reference was to anti-abortion and not to pro-life. As Wendy has made clear, the anti-abortionists are anything but pro-life. For all they care, every kid should die in the hospital before they ever got home.

    You wonder what motivates these people. First they get all sobby about the “innocent lives being taken,” and then they make it as difficult as possible for a woman not to get pregnant by prohibiting real sex education and by making access to contraceptives as difficult as they can. On top of that, they refuse to help kids get adequate nutrition (food stamps and WIC) and refuse to allow the kids to get medical care (Medicaid) and on top of that, they refuse to allow the mothers to get prenatal care (Planned Parenthood). These are some really sick puppies we’re talking about.

    • GuBEE

      Where do people not get access to real sex education? I received real sex-ed and that was in Utah, which is even more conservative than Texas. Did you know the majority of women seeking abortion were using birth control when they became pregnant?
      The following reference is a Pro-choice site:

      If women don’t get sex-ed in Texas, then why are all the abortion providers whining about informed consent laws, which show the development of the unborn? Do we really think women know nothing about sex, but are all experts in regards to fetal development, and abortion risks?

      “On top of that, they refuse to help kids get adequate nutrition (food
      stamps and WIC) and refuse to allow the kids to get medical care
      (Medicaid) and on top of that, they refuse to allow the mothers to get
      prenatal care (Planned Parenthood).”

      I don’t oppose WIC or Medicaid and I am conservative, but I support women seeing real prenatal care outside of Planned Parenthood. I’d even like to see much more money pulled out of the war chest and put into programs for women. Some conservatives support abortion, in the words of one conservative entering a United Methodist church, he supports abortion because it, “kills the right people”. On a side note, one of the main late term abortionists in Dallas attends the United Methodist church.

  • kay

    I practiced birth control by the withdraw method for 10 years and never got pregnant. Then, behold, when I dated a guy who was less secure about his sexuality and had been brainwashed by much of mass popular culture decided that we should wear condoms, although we weren’t wearing any for the first few months, I got pregnant do to a condom failure. And no, I don’t have HIV or STD’s I check myself and my partners. In my mind, condoms are only goof for missionary position. And the pill, my body was never able to get used to it. For me, safe sex is with a safe partner, that is open to the possibility of a pregnancy and is secure. I had to get an abortion with this one…learned my lesson.

  • John Huntsman

    They really called it the Lilith fund? Arrogance seems small potatoes compared to murder, I guess.