Since the state’s enactment of the nation’s strictest abortion law, people in Texas who are pregnant longer than six weeks have been unable to receive assistance to get an abortion. In the Rio Grande Valley, it’s led to a significant drop in the number of people reaching out for help, and a spike in those looking for emergency contraception.
Staff from Frontera Fund, a Valley-based organization that provides financial and practical support for individuals trying to obtain an abortion, assure people that abortion is still legal and that they are here to help.
But since Senate Bill 8 went into effect on Sept. 1, the number of calls they’ve received significantly decreased, according to one staff member who asked not to be identified.
“Comparing September 2020 to September 2021, they were completely cut in half,” they said of the number of calls received. “It went from like 30 to 15.”
Senate Bill 8 bans abortions in the state as early as six weeks of pregnancy and encourages private citizens to sue people or organizations who help someone get an abortion past that time period.
“That doesn’t mean abortions haven’t been happening, they’re never going to stop happening, but calls have decreased significantly since SB 8 went into effect a little over a month ago,” the staff member said. “Because of that, we’ve expanded to serve the border all the way from here in Brownsville to El Paso and any folks who need help that have different citizenship status all over the state.”
Apart from financial support for abortions, their services include practical support such as lodging and transportation as well as meals and child care in some instances.
But for individuals who are undocumented, the restrictions of SB 8 have made their situation even more difficult because while citizens or legal residents have the option — albeit a difficult one — to fly to a neighboring state for an abortion, they’re not able to travel as Melissa Arjona from South Texans for Reproductive Justice pointed out.
“People who can’t cross any of the checkpoints are kind of trapped here and so they were left without access,” Arjona said.
She added that her organization offers free “Plan B” pills and since the enactment of SB 8, requests for the emergency contraceptive have skyrocketed.
“I think 25% of the requests that we’ve had for the entire year happened in September,” Arjona said. “People are just really panicking.”
For a small window of time this week, SB 8 had been put on hold due to an injunction that was issued by a federal district court in Austin on Wednesday.
Then on Friday night, following an appeal from the state, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court Appeals blocked the injunction which allowed the law to be enforced once again.
But during that window of time, clinics throughout the state resumed abortions for individuals who were past the six weeks of pregnancy despite a clause in the law that allows abortion providers to be sued retroactively if an injunction is lifted, which it was through the federal appellate court’s order Friday.
Among the clinics who nonetheless resumed services during the time was Whole Woman’s Health, which has a clinic in McAllen — the only abortion clinic in the Valley.
“We are proud to have been part of this case, we are proud to do our part to lead the resuming of care in Texas,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, said during a virtual news conference Thursday.
When the injunction was issued Wednesday night, staff from their clinics began reaching out to patients who had been previously unable to get an abortion because of the law. As soon as their clinics opened Thursday morning, those patients were able to obtain abortions.
“What we have been doing for, really since Sept. 1 but especially the last couple of weeks is, when somebody’s pregnancy does have cardiac activity and we have to deny them the abortion that they came for, we’ve offered them the option of going ahead and completing the consenting process that’s required by Texas in order to have an abortion in Texas,” Hagstrom Miller explained.
“We didn’t really want to mislead people with false hope that we would get an injunction, but we also didn’t want to deny them the opportunity of opting in in case we did get an injunction so that they would be ready and able to come in for the abortion right away,” she said. “So the folks we saw this morning are people who had already complied with the 24-hour waiting period, who had decided to finish the consenting process and the state-mandated information process prior to yesterday and were on a waiting list of people to call to come in if we got an injunction.”
With the injunction now temporarily lifted, the abortion providers are vulnerable to litigation and many pregnant individuals throughout the state are again without access to abortion.
As the situation continues to fluctuate, many people, including individuals locally, are often confused about what’s legal and what isn’t.
“They don’t know exactly what the law entails, so I know a lot of people believe that abortion is actually illegal which is not the case,” said Arjona with South Texans for Reproductive Justice. “People are just confused as to what six weeks means, we have had some confusion over what Plan B even is — people think it causes abortion but it’s contraception.”
Frontera Fund has encountered similar confusion among the community but its staff argues that this may be the point.
“Laws like SB 8 are made not only to be so restrictive — SB 8 is the most restrictive law in the country — but it’s also to create confusion in the community,” the Frontera Fund staff member said. “There’s so much back-and-forth, is it legal, is it not legal?”
“So we want people to know abortion is still legal,” they added. “It is not going anywhere, it’s here and abortion funds like ourselves are here to help in any way possible and provide resources where we need to.”
This is what they want to be understood and for people to be unapologetic about abortion.
“It’s health care, it’s something that we need to talk about more and more so we can normalize,” they said, “but, again, in the end abortion is still legal.”