DENTON, Texas (WOMENSENEWS)– Texas women’s rights to safe, legal abortion have been under siege for over two decades and the situation is worsening as the numbers of low-income and minority women increase.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently temporarily blocked a Texas law that would have closed more than half of the state’s 19 remaining abortion clinics; down from 41 clinics before the law passed in 2013.
The order stays in effect until the High Court decides whether to hear the clinics’ appeal of the lower court ruling, which would make it the biggest abortion case heard by the Supreme Court in nearly 25 years.
Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers impose extra restrictions on abortion clinics, but not on other medical facilities. These TRAP laws, enacted in 44 states, are most stringent in Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Mississippi and North Carolina.
Texas made all this national news in 2013, after state lawmakers proposed a TRAP law that would shutter more than half of the state’s abortion clinics. Texas Sen. Wendy Davis donned her famous pink sneakers to filibuster for 13 hours in an attempt to stop the law’s passage. She succeeded briefly, but the law passed in a subsequent special session.
During the filibuster, hell broke loose in a capital full of abortion advocates and protesters. Scores of state troopers sent in to keep the peace searched women’s purses and confiscated tampons. A 72-year-old woman was arrested, charged with assaulting an officer, when she reached for her purse as she was dragged out of the Senate chambers, charges that were later dropped.
Texas‘s draconian law added stringent regulations requiring clinics to be constructed like surgical centers. It also required doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which is impossible in rural areas. No clinics would be able to continue west of San Antonio. El Paso is an eight-hour drive away, and abortion would be unavailable to women without means to travel to larger cities and wait several days for a procedure’s completion.
The law exacerbated a severe shortage here. Prior to its passage, 90 percent of Texas women already lived in a county with no abortion clinic. Statistics indicate that 43 percent of women under the age of 45 have had one abortion, and most were using contraception in the month prior to their pregnancy.
Abortion opponents say TRAP laws protect women’s health, but really they are like a Trojan horse. Disguised as protection for women’s health, their real function is to impose irrelevant restrictions that force clinics to close.
Epicenter of Anti-Abortion Protests
This ploy represents the same old hostility to a woman’s basic constitutional right to a safe, legal abortion. Here in Texas, the political momentum for these laws has been building for a long time.
This is something I know from personal experience living in Denton. This town of 120,000 became the epicenter of anti-abortion protests after Life Dynamics, an anti-abortion group founded in 1992, and led by former car salesman Mark Crutcher, moved its offices here. (It is still here, claiming tax-exempt status as an organization devoted to fostering the spiritual, mental and physical development of young women.)
Crutcher wrote "Firestorm: A Guerilla Strategy for Pro-Life America," outlining tactics to be used against abortion providers. Denton’s firestorm started in 1997, and it included picketing the home and church of the doctor who performed abortions here, Dr. Mary Smith.
Anti-abortion activists posted Smith’s vital statistics on websites. Protesters at Denton’s clinic also regularly taunted staff members and patients, putting up large photographs of the doctor along Denton’s highways and posting Old West style wanted pictures of Smith on telephone poles and trees. Thousands of flyers were mailed to Denton residents proclaiming the doctor as a murderer.
The doctor and I attended the same church, which was picketed for 18 months with protestors posted at each entrance holding 4-by-6-foot pictures of bloody fetuses.
While I expected to see protesters behaving badly, I was surprised at the antics the abortion opponents visited upon Smith, the only doctor performing abortions in the only clinic north of Dallas serving women from rural areas including Oklahoma.
After becoming fed up, I went to the local priest and shared photographs of the protestors. Our conversation was both comforting and spiritual. He appeared shocked, admitted the protesters were his parishioners and stated the behavior wasn’t Christian. Picketing at our church stopped the following week.
Around this time abortion opponents murdered several doctors and clinic workers in other states.
Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death in Amherst, N.Y., in October 1998 after he returned from synagogue, when a high-powered rifle bullet shattered the kitchen window where he was preparing soup, nearly striking his son’s head. His wife and four sons, ages 7 through 14, were at home.
In 1993, Dr. George Tiller was shot in both arms outside his abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan. He recovered and was shot to death in May 2009, as he ushered in his church, with his wife in the choir.
I am a nationally certified and licensed counselor. As Denton’s protests began, I started volunteering at a clinic, now closed like so many others, after one of my patients whose rape resulted in pregnancy reported she was harassed as she entered Smith’s clinic.
I met patients in the parking lot and escorted them past protesters holding up those bloody fetus signs, calling them murderers, saying they would die, saying they wouldn’t get pregnant again.
Sue Cyr was one of the protesters I observed regularly at both the clinic and the church. She was occasionally joined on Sundays by her husband, Tom, the former president of Dallas Pro-Life Action League, which focused on getting doctors to stop providing abortion. Tom Cyr and 10 other people were hit with an $8.5 million judgment for their actions against Norman Tompkins, a Dallas gynecologist, and his wife. According to court documents, he helped conceive and organize picketing at Tompkins’ house, office, church and the Boy Scouts of America, where his wife worked.
As abortion opponents pushed their agenda nationwide, they stimulated concerns about the mental health aftermath of abortion. No one denies that women who have abortions experience emotional pain, but research shows it is consistent with life stressors.
In my work as a licensed counselor, I have counseled equal numbers of women who carried unplanned pregnancies to term and kept babies, placed them for adoption or elected to end the pregnancy. From my experience, women make careful decisions about the best response to an unplanned pregnancy. The mental and physical health of women facing unplanned pregnancies is terribly important; women who are emotionally healthy do heal.
But what about the mental and physical health of the doctors who perform legal abortions?
Doctors shouldn’t have to endure harassment, isolation, violence, intrusions of their privacy and scientifically unfounded attempts to interfere with their work.
The debate boils down to the abortion opponents’ right to free speech versus women’s right to privacy, and feeling safe and protected at a difficult time. Fear tactics, intimidation and threats are not free speech.
By the same token, the debate over TRAP laws boils down to whether anti-abortion activists can deny women the right to abortion by curtailing access through burdensome, unscientific, regulations.
Maybe Texas, where Roe v. Wade began, will also be the state where the debate ends.
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