At first glance, 2016 might look like a victorious year for Texas women. In June, the state’s sweeping anti-abortion law that had placed unnecessary, burdensome regulations on abortion providers (forcing dozens to close) was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Reproductive rights advocates had finally won the fight that began in 2013 with Sen. Wendy Davis’ 11-hour-long filibuster on the floor of the Texas Senate.
Or so they thought. Despite a favorable ruling, none of the 21 abortion clinics that closed under Texas’ restrictive abortion law have managed to reopen. In fact, many clinic owners had been forced to sell their buildings, surrender their leases, and offload much of their equipment. Most don’t have the kind of money to re-open a business that Texas officials had just tried to stomp out of existence.
Naturally, the state has offered no support to clinics shuttered by Texas’ ultimately unconstitutional law. There are still only 19 clinics left in Texas, most of them crammed into the state’s major metropolitan areas — meaning thousands of reproductive-age women have to drive several hours (or hop the state line) to find an abortion provider. It’s no wonder that recent studies indicate that between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 have tried to end a pregnancy by themselves.
And it’s not like Texas abortion opponents threw up their hands and went home after their Supreme Court loss. Jilted Texas conservatives wasted little time before letting loose new anti-abortion regulations in 2016. In fact, Gov. Greg Abbott waited a full four days after the High Court’s decision before introducing his new “fetal burial rule” — which would make state health providers cremate and bury the fetal remains of every abortion and miscarriage that takes place in their facility. In many cases, this means cremating a quarter-sized embryo. Of course, there’s no medical or scientific reason behind the rule, which abortion advocates see as just another way to burden the state’s dwindling number of abortion clinics — all while further shaming women who decide to terminate a pregnancy.
Abortion providers have already sued to block the new rule, which had been scheduled to go into effect December 19 (a hearing on the case is now scheduled in early January). This means that in 2017, we’ll get to debate Texas-based, medically unnecessary abortion restrictions. Again.
Oh, and speaking of women’s health care, Texas also finally followed through on its threat to kick Planned Parenthood out of the state’s Medicaid program, potentially jeopardizing the basic health care services of thousands of low-income women who use the organization’s family planning clinics. Planned Parenthood has already vowed to fight the decision in court, meaning that, in 2017, there will be not one but two Texas-based abortion-related legal fights to look forward to. — Alex Zielinski