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Texas OB-GYN doctors urge the Supreme Court to strike down Texas’ abortion law

A sign says, "Abortion is healthcare."
Lucio Vasquez
Houston Public Media
Rallies took place across the country on Oct. 2, aimed at condemning efforts in states like Texas that are passing laws severely curtailing access to abortion.

A group of Texas doctors on Friday called on U.S. Supreme Court justices to strike down a new Texas law that bans abortion just six weeks into a pregnancy, ahead of Monday’s oral arguments over two cases challenging the law.

Harold Miller, a retired OB-GYN from Houston who practiced before Roe v. Wade, said he’s seen firsthand how tough abortion bans can have dangerous consequences. Miller recounted the story of a pre-Roe patient who died after having an unsafe illegal abortion.

The experience almost led to Miller leaving the medical field.

“The Supreme Court justices that do not vote to overturn this, and allow women to have a choice, will have many women’s lives who died on their conscience,” he said.

Miller spoke alongside other OB-GYN doctors during a virtual press conference Friday with the Committee to Protect Health Care, a health care advocacy group. The health care workers spoke in opposition to Texas Senate Bill 8, which went into effect Sept. 1.

The law bans abortions when cardiac activity is detected in the fetus. That can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they’re pregnant.

SB 8 faces a challenge from the U.S. Department of Justice in the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in the case Monday at 10 a.m. CT.

The Supreme Court justices declined to halt the Texas law as the case moves forward, meaning it will remain in effect for now. The justices will decide if the Texas law violates the constitution, and whether or not the federal government can sue Texas to obtain relief from the bill.

The new law has had a chilling effect on reproductive care in Texas, advocates say. During Friday’s conference, Dr. Nancy Binford, an OB-GYN in Austin, said doctors in Texas are telling patients to travel to other states for abortions. Already, Louisiana providers have reported delays in care because of an influx of patients from Texas.

Binford said the law has changed how she counsels her patients.

“Counseling, in terms of risks and benefits of pregnancy versus termination, it’s telling people to go to New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana for their procedures,” Binford said. “It is not illegal, but certainly, the narrative has changed.

An analysis from reproductive health research group the Guttmacher Institute found that Texans seeking abortions would be forced to travel more than 1,000 miles on average back and forth to obtain an abortion — a 3,000% increase in driving distance under current law.

Texas is one of 26 states that the Guttmacher Institute predicted would likely ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns or weakens Roe v. Wade in the U.S. v. Texas case. Other states include neighboring Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. New Mexico is the only Texas border state listed as unlikely to ban abortion.

Polling has found Texas’ law to be largely unpopular. A recent University of Houston and Texas Southern University poll found that more than two-thirds of people surveyed thought the current abortion law was too restrictive, with 46% saying abortion should be legal after six weeks of pregnancy in all or most cases.

But that same poll did find that a majority of Texans supported some abortion restrictions. The survey found 55% of Texans somewhat support banning abortion when a “fetal heartbeat” could be detected, with 37% strongly supporting it and 18% somewhat supporting it.

Doctors have disputed the terminology behind what supporters have called the fetal heartbeat law, arguing that it’s misleading, and not a clinical term.

Twenty-three percent of Texans say abortion should be banned after six weeks, with exceptions for rape or incest. Those exceptions are not in the Texas law.

Mark Jones, a senior research fellow at the UH Hobby School of Public Affairs, worked on the survey’s research team, and said that even people who support the law want it to be less strict.

“They support the legislation because that’s the only option they have,” Jones said. “What a majority of Texans would prefer would be to have that exception.”

SB 8 does not impose criminal penalties. Rather, it relies on third parties to file civil lawsuits against people who obtain abortion after six weeks or who facilitate an abortion.

Dr. Jane Stafford, a retired OB-GYN who practiced in Corpus Christi, said malpractice insurance can’t protect doctors who are sued under this law.

“It’s really a ridiculously written law, and it’s all done to get around national laws,” Stafford said.

Copyright 2021 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

Caroline Love
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