‘My experience is the epitome of undue burden’
I was born almost two decades after Roe v. Wade recognized the right to legal abortion in America. I always thought that meant my right to have an abortion was guaranteed, and no one could interfere with the decisions I made about my own body. Maybe that’s still true in the abstract, but in real-world places like Lubbock, Texas, nothing could be further from the truth.
I learned this the hard way two years ago, in the fall of 2014. I was working my way through college as a waitress when I learned I was pregnant. I knew I wasn’t ready to be a mother, and while my decision to have an abortion wasn’t an easy one, I knew it was the right choice for me.
The problem is that I was living in Texas, a state openly hostile to abortion rights. That year an anti-choice law known as HB2 went into effect and forced abortion clinics all over the state to shut down. The law singles out abortion providers with excessive regulations – including an admitting privileges requirement and a rule that abortion clinics must meet certain building specifications to essentially become “mini hospitals” (also known as ambulatory surgical centers, or ASCs) – which the medical community has called out as totally unnecessary and actually dangerous to women. In fact, both surgical and medical abortion have been shown to be incredibly safe. Common procedures such as liposuction or colonscopies carry higher complications.
But that didn’t matter, because HB2 is pure politics. Lawmakers couldn’t ban abortion outright, so they decided the next best thing is to set up roadblocks to stop women from accessing abortion—all while pretending they’re on a mission to somehow improve women’s health.
The law has done exactly what they wanted it to. Four years ago, there were more than 40 abortion clinics in Texas. HB2 has already forced more than half of those clinics to close. If the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t strike down the worst parts of the law in a case the justices are currently considering and will soon decide,Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, then Texas will be left with as few as 10 abortion clinics to serve all Texas women. All 5.4 million of us of reproductive age.
As a result of HB2, the clinic in Lubbock closed. I was left choosing between bad and worse: Drive 600 miles west, round-trip to Albuquerque, or 600 miles east, round-trip to Dallas. The expense of travel, hotels and foregoing work shifts added hundreds of dollars onto the cost of a procedure. Either way, I was faced with a five-hour drive just to get the procedure. Even then, the remaining clinics were so overwhelmed by the closures that there were no guarantees I’d even be able to see a doctor in Dallas, where women have been forced to wait as long as 20 days just to get an initial appointment. I ended up driving to New Mexico.
I was fortunate that I could scrape together the nearly $800 it took for me – but just barely. If I’d had a little less money, or if I didn’t have reliable transportation or a job that let me take several days off in a row, my right to make decisions about my body would have remained nothing but an abstract concept.
What’s so perverse about a law that pushes access to abortion out of reach by making it more expensive and logistically difficult is that it is essentially custom-built to target poor women. That has a compounding effect, preventing women from pursuing education and from working their way up from poverty. When you take away a woman’s choice, you don’t just take away her autonomy and her dignity. You take away her opportunity as well.
Over the next few months, I tried to learn as much as I could about how things got so bad in Texas. I knew lawmakers had passed a major anti-abortion bill in 2013. I remembered being moved and inspired by Wendy Davis’s filibuster. But I didn’t understand the extent of the harm that law would cause.
I suspect that’s because the politicians behind HB2 were dealing in abstractions, because their real goal was attacking the very right to choose. So they talked vaguely about health and safety, and claimed their law would help women without offering anything concrete to back it up. And it all sounded reasonable enough if you didn’t look too closely or consider the tangible impact on actual people – women like me, left to drive hundreds of miles and forced to struggle financially to make decisions protected by the Constitution.
And that damage is more widespread than people might realize. There were 1.1 million abortions performed in 2010, according to a recent study by the CDC. And the more open I’ve been about my experience with friends, family and coworkers, the more I’ve realized that I am not alone. I’ve heard from other people in my life who have been faced with an unintended pregnancy and decided to have an abortion.
My abortion was a deeply personal decision, but I am speaking out because versions of my story have played out all across Texas over the last three years. The circumstances are different, but the burdens are the same. I’m telling my story because I want the Texas legislature to know who I am: I am one of their constituents, and I have been harmed by a law they insist was supposed to help me.
I want them to know that the choice they want to take away does not exist as some hypothetical ideal, but belongs to a human being who is every bit as real as they are.
Kathryn Holburn is a bartender living in Dallas, Texas.