Justice

UPDATED: Abortion clinics set to shutter across South on Sept. 1

[Update, 10/02/2014, 7:25 p.m. EDT: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday in favor of the anti-abortion law in Texas that could potentially shut all but seven abortion clinics in the state. This comes on the heels of a previous decision from a federal judge that had blocked the law. Women along the Texas-Mexico border will be impacted the most, as they will be faced with a 300-mile drive to the nearest abortion clinic.]

[Update, 9/02/2014, 10:15 a.m. EDT: A federal judge on Sunday evening issued a temporary restraining order that effectively prevents the Louisiana abortion law from taking effect until a hearing can be held. Several clinics in the state have filed a lawsuit to overturn the law.]

[Update, 8/29/2014, 6:45 p.m. EDT: A federal judge on Friday evening threw out Texas abortion restrictions that would have forced more than a dozen clinics to close on Sep. 1. A U.S. district judge said the law, which would have required abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers, created too much of an obstacle for women seeking an abortion. The state will reportedly seek a reversal.]

Louisiana may be left with just one abortion clinic come Sept. 1.

That’s when new laws take effect that will make it more difficult for clinics in Texas and Louisiana to perform abortions.

Physicians who provide abortions in Louisiana will be required to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a measure already in place in Texas. Texas facilities will need to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers. More than a dozen clinics struggling to comply with the new requirements in the two southern states may be forced to close.

The laws, which medical professionals have widely decried as unnecessary, are not unique. In November, nearby Oklahoma is set to enact a law that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in that state. Proponents say the law is necessary in case a patient suffers complications.

The measures are part of a wave of abortion laws passed three years ago after Tea Party lawmakers swept into office during the 2010 midterm elections. Analysts like Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, say they may expand to other states in the next several election cycles as these lawmakers look to please the conservative constituents who put them in office.

Similar laws have been signed in a handful of states with Republican-controlled legislatures across the country, from North Dakota to Kansas. But the impact has been particularly acute in the South, where clinics in Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi have closed in recent years, leaving long distances between abortion providers. In 2011, there were 64 clinics across the four states. Today, there are 34.

Proponents of the laws say they will make abortions safer, but the clinics say the legislation is intended to clamp down on abortions. Physicians seeking admitting privileges have struggled to obtain them and meeting the surgical ambulatory center, or outpatient surgery center, standards, can be prohibitively expensive.

“I think the whole purpose of these new laws is to close clinics,” Kathleen Pittman, administrator of Hope Medical Clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, told Fusion. “It’s nothing but a way to circumvent Roe v Wade.”

Pittman’s clinic and several other clinics and doctors have filed a lawsuit to block implementation of the Louisiana law, arguing the state did not give them enough time to meet the new requirements.

Hope Medical is the only clinic in Louisiana that currently meets the standards set forth by the state’s new law. Clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the most populous areas of the state, will likely be forced to close. Pittman and her colleagues worry the closures will send a wave of patients to Hope Medical.

“Our big concern is that we would be inundated with patients,” she said, adding that wait times for an abortion could increase and there could be delays in care.

Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life says the new law is intended to increase safety, but studies show that almost no women suffer serious complications from abortion procedures.

“We really believe the abortion industry should agree with us in this situation, that abortion should become a safer procedure,” Clapper said. “Unfortunately, their opposition to this legislation shows that their real interest is increasing the profit and the number of abortions that are sold rather than the health and safety of the procedure.”

Yet, according to the Guttmacher Institute, “Fewer than one percent of all U.S. abortion patients experience a major complication and the risk of death associated with abortion is 10 times as low as that associated with childbirth.”

“Restricting access is not going to reduce the number of abortions,” Pittman said. “It will reduce the number of safe abortions.”

Sylvia Cochran, administrator of the Women’s Health Care Center in New Orleans and the Delta Clinic in Baton Rouge, which are both in danger of closing, agreed.

“The people who use clinics are the people who have the least,” she said. “They’re usually the working-class people or the poor.”

Still, as much as Cochran and Pittman would like the clinics to remain open, they face stiff opposition from lawmakers in the state. While an appeals court in Mississippi has temporarily prevented a similar law in that state from taking effect, challenges in Texas and Louisiana have so far been unsuccessful.

“What is happening in Louisiana echoes what is happening in many states throughout the country,” said Jesse Nieblas of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, which gives small grants to women seeking abortions. “And as state legislatures and anti-choice activists see that these laws pass, they start to write their own.”

Pro-choice advocates say they’re ready to do what it takes to keep the clinics open.

“I thank the women in the generation before me who fought for this right,” said Nieblas, 27. “But that fight has to keep continuing.”

Additional reporting by Andrea Torres