Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and calls for tighter abortion laws at the Republican presidential debate have moved abortion rights back into the national spotlight. But the real fight is at the state level. The next bigSupreme Court case involving abortion is expected to come from Texas, where a 2013 law led to the closing of many clinics and inspired abortion opponents around the country to propose similar restrictions.
The law’s effects in Texas show the degree to which regulations ostensibly about clinic quality and women’s safety can reduce access to abortion and raise costs for women who choose the procedure.
Texas is now home to 17 abortion clinics, down from 41 in 2012, just before the law was passed. The 17 are almost all in major cities in the central and eastern part of the state, which are more able to fulfill the new requirements.
The average Texas county is now 111 miles from the nearest clinic, up from 72 miles in 2012. This is substantially higher than the national average outside Texas, 59 miles, and more than triple the average in deep red South Carolina, 36 miles.
The restrictions, part of House Bill 2, require clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards, and physicians to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Proponents of the bill say they were seeking to safeguard women’s health; abortion rights supporters say the regulations are medically unnecessary and present an “undue burden” on women’s rights that they will challenge in court.
The impact of House Bill 2 is felt the most in western Texas, which is more rural. Lubbock and Midland each had clinics in 2012. Today, women there have to travel more than 250 miles to get to the nearest clinic: to Fort Worth for women from Lubbock, and to New Mexico for women from Midland.
And these counties aren’t alone. A fifth of Texas counties, primarily in the western half of the state, are more than 100 miles farther from a clinic today than they were in 2012.
Another way to understand abortion access in Texas is to compare it with the state of Washington, which is similar to Texas in population density but has not imposed major abortion restrictions in the decades since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. If abortion clinics were as common in Texas as they are in Washington, 79 Texas counties would be home to a clinic, up from seven today and 16 in 2012. As seen in the map, this would put women throughout the state much closer to a clinic.
Joe Pojman, the executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, which helped organize grass-roots support for the House bill, noted that having to travel for medical care is not unique to abortion. “If you live in the Rio Grande Valley and you need specialized oncology, for example, you may be traveling to Houston,” a trip of about 350 miles, he said in an interview.
Read more: NY Times