Three Texas lawmakers—all of them doctors—have filed a bill that would require all abortion providers to meet the “minimum standards” for ambulatory surgical centers. Sponsoring Senator Bob Deuell tweeted today, after filing the bill, that it would “force abortion clinics in Texas to put women’s health first.”
But the bill appears to be predominantly concerned with putting lawmakers’ political careers first.
“This is not medically motivated, it’s ideologically motivated,” NARAL Pro-Choice Texas executive director Heather Busby told RH Reality Check. She said the lawmakers “haven’t shown any proven track record of problems this legislation would solve.”
“In effect, it will make conditions more unsafe for women,” said Busby, pushing Texans to seek “unsafe and illegal abortions” by crossing the border into Mexico, or ordering abortifacients online. Legal abortion performed by a qualified provider is one of the safest medical procedures; childbirth, by contrast, has a risk of death ten times that of legal abortion, according to the World Health Organization.
An almost identical bill was filed in the 2011 session, but died in committee. TRAP laws, intended to regulate abortion providers out of existence are a widespread and common tactic for anti-choice lawmakers—it’s a move that’s worked in Virginia, and may shut down Mississippi’s last abortion clinic. It’s also one that Texas Governor Rick Perry outright endorsed last month: “In Texas, we’ve worked hard to strengthen our abortion laws to the greatest extent possible under Roe v. Wade.” You don’t have to make abortion as a procedure illegal—you don’t have to overturn Roe vs. Wade—if you make safe, legal abortions impossible to access or provide.
The modifications required for compliance with ambulatory surgical center standards would require clinics to make significant structural changes, like widened hallways and modifications to air flow patterns, that one abortion provider told RH Reality Check are “unwarranted” in terms of improving the health and safety of abortion patients.
“There’s no basis in medicine that requires the higher level of sophistication of the physical plant and regulations that go with an ambulatory surgical center,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of the Whole Woman’s Health group of reproductive health clinics, oversees five clinics in Texas, one of which is an ambulatory surgical center.
“Abortion is a procedure, it’s not a surgery,” said Hagstrom Miller. “There’s no incision made.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were 67 abortion providers in Texas in 2008. If the bill were to pass, the number of abortion providers in Texas would be reduced to five. As a result, said Hagstrom Miller, those five centers—one in Austin, one in Dallas, one in San Antonio and two in Houston—would likely be seeing more patients seeking later-term abortions that come with higher health risks.
The cost, in both time and money, of getting an abortion in Texas has increased in recent years because of mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound requirements and pre-abortion waiting periods. Texans already must wait 24 hours between their initial consultation and their procedures, which especially burdens women who have to drive or find public transportation into neighboring cities and towns to see their doctors. A drastic reduction in the number of providers—the expected outcome of this bill were to become law—would mean even more hurdles for Texans to jump to access a safe, legal medical procedure.
“Show me the problem,” said Hagstrom Miller, who pointed out that this kind of legislation does nothing to address unplanned pregnancies, or increase access to contraception, that would prevent the need for abortion in the first place. “What problem are we addressing here? What exactly are we fixing here?”