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'We are at a crisis point': Women's health center struggles to stay open in Austin

Photo of a light brick building seen through the trees of a lightly wooded area
Courtesy Austin Women's Health Center
Austin Women's Health Center opened in 1976.

An independently owned women's reproductive health clinic is fighting to keep its doors open after nearly five decades serving Austin.

Austin Women’s Health Center began offering abortion care and gynecological services to women out of its South Austin location in 1976. It was founded by Dr. L.L. “Tad” Davis, who still serves as the center’s medical director.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned and Texas’ trigger law went into effect last year, clinics like Austin Women’s Health Center could no longer offer abortions. Many closed, including Austin's Whole Woman's Health.

Austin Women's Health Center, however, chose to stay open. Between June 2022 and June 2023, former clinic Director Julie Smith said, the clinic served around 3,000 patients with ultrasounds, contraception, miscarriage management and other services. This represents an uptick in patients seeking non-abortion services; in 2021, only 2,400 sought that type of care, but there were 3,700 additional patients who visited the clinic for abortions.

The center has struggled financially since abortion services were eliminated. In a GoFundMe campaign she organized, Smith said the clinic is at a “crisis point.”

“A lot of our patients that would seek abortion care were self-pay patients. They paid out of pocket for those services,” Smith told KUT. “Profits from that helped support our regular gynecological practice, and to provide comprehensive care to patients throughout their reproductive lives.”

Over the past year, she said, Austin Women’s Health Center has drawn on its reserves in order to keep operating while often serving patients who are uninsured or enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid. Recently, the center has had to make difficult decisions— including eliminating Smith’s own position.

She has continued to support the clinic, however; one of her last acts as director was to launch the GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $75,000. This amount, Smith said, would help to cover overhead expenses and unexpected costs.

“We have patients that have been coming to us their whole lives, almost,” she said. “We don’t feel like we can just abandon them.”

Smith also said Austin Women’s Health Center plays an essential role in providing care for women who experience miscarriages.

“What we’ve found recently with our patients that we’ve seen for miscarriage care is that they’ve gone to the emergency room and they’ve been turned away. They say, ‘This will happen at home naturally. Come back if you’re bleeding X amount per hour.’”

Additionally, Smith said the clinic continues to be a safe place for women who have received abortions in other states and have questions about follow-up care. The clinic’s staff also will discuss options with people considering abortions.

“They need a place locally that they can go … without fear of prosecution,” Smith said. “That's why we really felt like it's so important for us to stay open and keep providing the care as long as possible.”

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Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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