- The Texas law, also called “the heartbeat bill,” bans abortions at 6 weeks of pregnancy throughout the state.
- Clinics hundreds of miles from Texas are reporting an increase in calls for appointments.
- Telehealth clinics say they’ve had more people request emergency contraception.
On Sept. 1, the most restrictive abortion care law to date — S.B.8 — went into effect in Texas.
The law, also called “the heartbeat bill,” bans abortions at 6 weeks of pregnancy throughout the state of Texas.
On Dec. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to let the 6-week abortion ban in Texas, known as S.B.8, remain in effect as legal challenges against the ban proceed.
The case will head back to a district court for proceedings.
Though abortion providers can challenge the law, the decision to keep S.B.8 in action in the meantime could have dire consequences for clinics that may struggle to stay open.
This ruling is not a final decision on whether to ultimately uphold the abortion ban in Texas.
What the law does
The law allows individual citizens to sue anyone they believe has helped someone get an abortion, like abortion providers, abortion rights activists, or friends and family members.
Since going into effect, people in Texas who learn they’re pregnant and wish to end their pregnancy have been left with few options. Many have been scared and confused about when and how they can seek abortion care.
Planned Parenthood health centers — both in Texas and neighboring states like Missouri and Illinois — said they’d been experiencing an influx of calls from people asking about when and where they can receive abortion care, according to a spokesperson from Planned Parenthood.
Abortion care workers, from physicians and nurses to administrative staff and lawyers, in and around Texas are mobilized and dedicated to helping people get the care they need.
“Nothing about this law is going to deter Texans who are providing abortion care from continuing to fight to bring back what people in that community deserve, which is access to that care locally,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, the chief medical officer at the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, speaking with Healthline earlier this year.
What’s happening in neighboring states
Weeks after the law went into effect, abortion providers said they had seen a major shift.
McNicholas said her clinic in Illinois has seen an increase in people inquiring about abortion care even though Texas is hundreds of miles away.
They’ve seen some people — many of whom have crossed a few state lines — as the states directly neighboring Texas already have limited access to abortion care and a web of restrictions that can delay care for people.
“When you factor in the multiplicity of all these different factors — the law, gestational age, restriction requirements in states, and then even just the availability of providers in those states — it doesn’t take very long to be looking to Southern Illinois… as it might be the most expeditious to get that kind of care,” McNicholas said.
What online pharmacies are seeing
NURX, an online birth control provider, has noticed more people from Texas have ordered emergency contraception since the Texas ruling.
Kiki Freedman, the CEO of Hey Jane, a company that ships abortion care medications, said in an earlier interview with Healthline they’ve seen a 300 percent increase in patients seeking care from August to September.
The abortion community is mobilizing to help women in Texas access care in neighboring states.
“We’re working overtime to launch in New Mexico and Colorado in the coming weeks so that we can help provide care to anyone who needs it there — including those traveling in from Texas,” Freedman said.
Another popular telehealth abortion care provider, Choix, is also working quickly to expand abortion care services to Texas’ neighbors, Colorado and New Mexico.
“We have learned from our colleagues that clinics in border states and beyond are overwhelmed by patient calls for abortion services,” said Cindy Adam, the co-founder of Choix, speaking with Healthline. “Our goal is to help patients safely have an abortion in these states, by using Choix’s platform, without them having to make an appointment at a clinic.”
Aid Access, an online group focused on providing people with online reproductive care, can provide prescriptions for medical abortions up to 10 weeks and can give these medications to people to have on hand for the future in case they are in need of a medical abortion.
Are any MDs planning on leaving the state?
As of now, there doesn’t seem to be an exodus of abortion care professionals leaving the state of Texas.
“For those of us in abortion care, we are so accustomed to having to help people navigate these sorts of things that this is just another, sort of, layer for us in helping folks feel safe and secure in accessing that care outside of Texas,” McNicholas said.
But S.B.8 isn’t going to deter Texans from continuing to fight for people to access abortion care in their own communities.
“The broader community has been fighting this fight for a long time and [is] not going to give up,” McNicholas said.
This work isn’t new. What’s new, said McNicholas, is the volume of patients that the medical community will have to help navigate the new hoops.
What might the future effects be?
Reproductive health specialists say that Texas is the first state to pass this type of law — but it won’t be the last.
Florida, Arkansas, and South Dakota are already discussing similar bans like S.B.8, according to Planned Parenthood.
New research from University of Colorado Boulder found that abortion bans are linked to an increase in maternal deaths, especially among Black women who are more likely to face serious complications during pregnancy.
According to study author Amanda Stevenson, assistant professor of sociology at UCB, staying pregnant is riskier to a woman’s health than having an abortion. She said it will take time to detect the increase in pregnancy-related deaths.
“This is because abortion occurs early in pregnancy, but the risk of death is concentrated late in pregnancy,” Stevenson said. “When abortions are denied, it will take about a year before the actual count of pregnancy-related deaths increases due to the ban.”