When Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a sweeping anti-abortion law in 2013, he did so knowing the measure faced an uncertain future. Indeed, the law is already winding its way through the legal system, and if its opponents have their way, Texas’s reproductive legal code will land in the hands of the Supreme Court.
But such a decision is likely a year or years a way, and back in the Lone Star State, the final judicial score won’t much matter.
The law has already had tremendous success in closing abortion clinics and restricting abortion access in Texas. And those successes appear all but certain to stick—with or without the Supreme Court’s approval of the law that created them.
There were more than 40 clinics that provided abortions in Texas in 2011. There are now 20 still open, and after the law’s last steps of implementation are taken in September, all but six are expected to close. Most of the closed clinics will never reopen, their operators say.
Few businesses could survive a years-long hibernation, and that’s all the more true for clinics, providers say. The added difficulty of finding qualified doctors, getting new licences, and navigating state health department regulations is a hurdle higher than most closed clinics are likely to clear—especially in a state where a sizable portion of the public is vehemently opposed to abortion and unwilling to aid it in any way.
“I can’t find anyone to deliver water or resurface the parking lot, because they’re against abortion. I can’t get someone to fix a leak in the roof,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health.
In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit—which covers Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana—upheld the law as constitutional. Additionally, the court declined a request to keep two of the law’s provisions, both of which were instrumental in the clinic closures, from taking effect before the legal struggle over the law is completed.
The clinic closures will increase as the law phases in a set of requirements for abortion facilities. The first set, which included a requirement that doctors performing the procedure have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, went into effect last November, prompting many clinics to close. The final set of restrictions—that all abortions, including drug-induced, be performed in ambulatory surgical centers—takes effect in September.
Hagstrom Miller’s company had five abortion facilities and one ambulatory surgical center in Texas in 2013. Two closed as a result of the admitting-privilege requirement in March, and it’s likely that only the surgical center in San Antonio will remain by September.