Planned Parenthood South Texas has announced plans to build a new $5 million ambulatory surgical center in San Antonio, in anticipation of the enactment of the final provision of Texas’ new omnibus anti-abortion law that mandates all abortion procedures—both surgical and medication abortions—be performed or administered in these hospital-like facilities.
Currently, Texas has six licensed abortion-providing ambulatory surgical centers and 19 abortion clinics. After September 1, if a new lawsuit does not succeed in persuading a federal court to block the enforcement of the new law, it will become illegal for doctors to provide abortion care in a clinical setting.
But the president of Planned Parenthood South Texas (PPST) said abortion will be just one part of the spectrum of care provided at the new facility.
“The new facility will be about so much more than abortion—this health center will still primarily be a place where life-changing, life-saving preventive health care is done,” said PPST president Jeffrey Hons. At the surgical center, both male and female patients will be able to access treatment and diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections, cancer screenings, annual exams, contraception, and pregnancy testing in addition to other reproductive health services and counseling.
The number of legal abortion providers in Texas declined steadily over the past four years, as conservative lawmakers have passed increasingly stringent restrictions on abortion care in the state, from requiring mandatory ultrasounds to requiring that abortion-providing doctors have hospital admitting privileges. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Texas had 62 abortion providers in 2011; as of March 2014, it had just 24.
Even after the construction of the new Planned Parenthood facility, there will be no ambulatory surgical centers located west or south of San Antonio, or east of Houston, at which Texans can access legal abortion care. Legal abortions will be available only in the state’s larger cities—Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio—forcing Texans in other parts of the state either to drive hundreds of miles round trip for procedures, to carry their pregnancies to term, or to attempt to end their pregnancies on their own.
Abortion providers say that the high cost of constructing new ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), or retrofitting existing clinics, prevents most facilities from being able to come into compliance with the new law.
“By the estimates I have been given, an ASC costs upwards of $450 to $500 per square foot to build. That is at least $2 million to $3 million for a 5,000-square-foot facility,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider and plaintiff in the latest lawsuit challenging Texas’ ASC regulations, in a media conference call on Wednesday.
While conservative lawmakers have said that the ASC requirements are meant to increase patient safety, Texas’ Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tweeted last year that the intent of the law was to shutter as many facilities as possible.
Hagstrom Miller said that she is unwilling to “use precious funds needed for direct service care to women in unnecessary construction projects,” in light of the overall safety of abortion. And she said she has no reason to believe that yet more onerous restrictions on legal abortion are coming, despite the fact that abortion providers in Texas “undertake heroic acts to comply and comply and comply” with new regulations.
“The consequences of these onerous requirements are an injustice,” said Hagstrom Miller, “not only to our clinics and the women we serve, but to the community.”