A handful of clinics in Texas have closed, or are planning to, just weeks after a controversial bill restricting abortions passed the state legislature.
Planned Parenthood says the closures will hurt the women who came to the clinics for general healthcare services. Anti-abortion groups say there are other doctors for the women to go to. So who's right?
Athena Mason’s first doctor’s visit as a student at Texas A&M was a bit awkward. She had gone in for a basic checkup, but the physician noticed something else.
“I had a hickey and the doctor was just like, you shouldn’t be doing that," Mason said. "I’m like, 'it’s a hickey, it’s nothing major.' But I got a big lecture, [he said] my boyfriend was abusive and all of these things. And then I asked for birth control. I did not hear the end of that. So I said never mind, I’ll go someplace else.”
That experience led her to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan. But on August 1, that clinic closed. Mason now drives three hours to her hometown of Fort Worth to see a doctor. She knows she’s lucky to have that option.
“A lot of my friends have come up to me and they’re like, 'Oh my gosh I had an appointment next week but it’s closed now and I didn’t even know,'” said Mason.
The Bryan clinic was one of two abortion and women’s health providers in Texas that closed last month. Both cited the state’s new abortion law for closing. Which makes people like Mason and Bryan resident Cadence King collateral damage from the new legislative restrictions.
“If there’s a woman who has reached a decision, she needs an abortion, she’s going to find a place to go," King said. "There’s going to be a place that she can go. Yeah, she’s going to have to drive and that’s supremely unfortunate. But overall the majority of women that are going to hurt are the ones that need just the routine health care.”
Anti-abortion groups argue there are still plenty of doctors and clinics available to help women find a new provider. The group called Pro-Life Aggies ran a full page ad in the Texas A&M newspaper offering alternatives to the closed Planned Parenthood clinic. But many weren’t taking new patients. Or they didn’t deal with women’s health at all.
“There’s a long list of providers here in town," said King. "They consist of podiatrists and optometrists. And my eyes and my feet are fine.”
These stories are nothing new to Jose Camacho, the executive director of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers. He says the access problem is best summed up by one number: 23 percent. Back in 2011, the legislature cut funding for a state program that provides preventative care to low income women. Since those cuts, the number of claims filed under that program are down by 23 percent.
“There weren’t any less women that needed the service. There were just less women that got served," Camacho said.
This spring, the legislature added back millions of dollars for family planning. Now, Camacho’s clinics are ready to hire more staff and expand services. But the money hasn’t shown up yet. Once it does, Camacho said restoring services will be like cleaning up after a natural disaster.
"The day you get your check or loan or whatever from FEMA, your house doesn’t magically appear. The devastation that’s been wreaked doesn’t go away. You have to rebuild. And that’s what we have to do," Camacho said.
But former Planned Parenthood client Cadence King says she can’t wait much longer. She’d been visiting the Bryan clinic since 1998, when she was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on her cervix.
She had regular checkups over the years to monitor her condition and make sure it wasn’t progressing. Since the clinic closed, she’s missed a couple of her regular visits because she’s having trouble finding another provider.
“I’m probably up against that window right now. There are some decisions that I need to make. And sticking your head in the sand is only good for so long," King said.
So far, she has two options: Driving three hours each way to visit a clinic in Beaumont or making an appointment with the one clinic that's willing to take her in Bryan. But that clinic's next open appointment is about four months away.