As Abortion Deadline Neared, 27 Women Waited in Texas Clinic
(Bloomberg) -- Two hours before midnight Tuesday, before a new Texas law effectively banning most abortions kicked in, 27 patients were still huddled in the waiting room of the Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic in Fort Worth.
The women were hoping doctors could see them before the nation’s most restrictive abortion law took effect, blocking almost all procedures once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, before some women know they have conceived.
Doctors, some of them in tears, completed the clinic’s last procedure at 11:56 p.m. Tuesday after having opened before 8 a.m., according to Amy Hagstrom Miller, head of Whole Woman’s Health, an independent chain of four reproductive-health clinics in Texas and a plaintiff in an emergency request to block the law that the Supreme Court turned away late Wednesday.
“This is an all-out abortion ban, plain and simple,” Hagstrom Miller told reporters Wednesday. She described the on-the-ground situation at the Fort Worth clinic after discussions with the facility’s staff administrator. A clinic spokeswoman said the staff worked non-stop to help 117 patients trying to beat the deadline Tuesday.
The chaos inside the Texas clinic was matched by the uproar outside as anti-abortion protesters jeered and flooded the parking lot with bright lights. Clinic staff saw the protesters taking photographs of people coming and going and writing down license plate numbers -- information that they might now use in court against clinic staff or anyone else who helps a woman get an abortion after six weeks.
The law tasks private citizens, rather than any government agency, with enforcement. Under the law, “any person” other than a state official can file a civil lawsuit against anyone who performs or intends to perform a prohibited abortion, or who aids or abets one.
Texas’s new law is the state’s boldest bid yet to shut down abortion clinics and doctors, who can’t afford to face the crippling flood of litigation promised by anti-abortion activists deputized under the statute.
Anybody can sue anyone remotely connected with an outlawed abortion, including not only clinics and medical staff but also drivers transporting patients, charities paying for patients’ travel expenses, rape counselors offering victims options, and patients’ sympathetic family and friends, according to Marc Hearron, a Center for Reproductive Rights lawyer leading the fight to stop the law.
“I’m sure if Texas is successful, other states will look into following suit,” Hearron said Wednesday.
Abortion foes cheered the enactment of the law Wednesday and vowed to help people enforce it, even setting up a “whistle-blower’s” website with a form for people to provide anonymous tips on possible violators.
Shortly after midnight Wednesday morning, Texas Right to Life tweeted out: “The Texas Heartbeat Act is now in effect! Texas is officially the first state EVER to enforce a heartbeat law! God bless Texas.”
The comment was met with a chorus of tweets praising God and Republicans, along with a photo posted by someone named Josephina Curiel stating: “Just saw this man driving a woman to an abortion clinic in TX. Do I get a reward or something?”
As the law went into effect, anti-abortion protesters were outside the Fort Worth clinic gathering possible evidence.
“We were under surveillance,” Hagstrom Miller said. When she woke up at her Virginia home hours later, she said hearing about the experience from staff had rendered her “numb.” But she was determined to keep her clinics’ doors open.
Hagstrom Miller said compliance with Texas’s new law has altered the way her staff answers the phones and documents patient procedures, like the ultrasounds conducted to determine disqualifying fetal cardiac activity. Information on the clinics’ websites has also changed to reflect the state’s six-week cutoff.
“This will have real and lasting effects on our physicians for years to come,” she said. “But our teams are on site” Wednesday, she said, and serving any patients that can squeeze through the legal gauntlet. “The tragedy is we can only provide abortions for about 10% of the people we were able to provide for yesterday.”
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