Shreveport (United States) (AFP) – At a small clinic in Louisiana, a five-hour drive from her home in neighboring Texas, Shayla is waiting for her long-awaited appointment to have an abortion.
“I’ve been trying basically for six weeks,” she told AFP, explaining that she is in her thirteenth week of pregnancy.
On September 1, 2021, one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the United States went into effect in Texas, banning all abortions from the moment a heartbeat can be detected in the womb, or around six weeks into pregnancy.
Texas is the second most populous state in the country, with a population of about 30 million.
Clinics in neighboring countries were quickly overwhelmed by patients seeking abortions, which led to longer waiting times for the procedure.
Planned Parenthood, an abortion rights group that operates health clinics across the country, reported in February an 800 percent increase in patients from Texas visiting surveyed abortion clinics in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Missouri.
At private Planned Parenthood clinics in Oklahoma, the increase was closer to 2,500 percent.
“Once a woman decides she can’t continue with the pregnancy, delaying care to terminate the pregnancy is tough,” says Kathleen Pittman, MD, a director at Hope Women’s Medical Group in Shreveport, Louisiana — where Shaila is awaiting her procedure.
“We see a lot of tears, and a lot of women feel very hopeless,” Bateman adds.
“For most women, we have to tell them that anything you do to try to harm the pregnancy (yourself) is definitely going to hurt you more.”
On this April morning, there’s a steady number of patients: some from within the state, others from Texas or Mississippi, many with someone in charge of driving them home after their miscarriages—sometimes to watch their babies go through a procedure.
Behind the reception window, the phone is constantly ringing.
Half a dozen answering staff repeat the same message: No, we can’t make an appointment for you right now, you need to be on the waiting list.
About two weeks later, the clinic will reach out to patients to determine — in another week or two — the first two mandatory appointments that Louisiana requires to have an abortion.
“This law is putting pressure on people,” says a 31-year-old teacher from Houston who didn’t want to be named.
“Not knowing if I could be taken care of was the most stressful part of the process,” she adds.
Pittman notes that the small Shreveport clinic has limited space and workers, and is constantly operating at capacity.
“We had to increase our staff,” she says. “But imagine, so to speak, trying to increase your staff in the midst of a pandemic, when medical personnel are already overburdened, overworked and unavailable.”
Before a new Texas law limiting abortion rights, only 18 percent of patients at the clinic came from Texas. Now, they are the majority.
But Louisiana residents also continue to seek abortions, so they must also suffer delays caused by the new Texas law.
– As far as Colorado and Oklahoma –
“I learned she was pregnant a month and a half ago,” says the African-American woman, 34, referring to her 16-year-old daughter, sitting next to her in the waiting room, wrapped in a blanket.
Two African American women from Houston and Dallas sat on a few benches waiting for their turn.
The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization, reported in 2008 that the abortion rate in America for black women was five times higher than for white women.
Although these Texas women hope to maintain their privacy, they have dealt with several rounds of logistical difficulties for out-of-state appointments: finding childcare, taking time off work, renting the occasional car, and paying for housing.
They also had to find a close person who could also quit work and travel with them.
Before opening a place in Louisiana, Shayla was on waiting lists in Colorado and Oklahoma.
“It’s like, you either have a baby and struggle, or you travel,” explains the 27-year-old Houstonian, already a single mother to a two-year-old son.
She says two organizations helped her raise the $2,000 she needed for the entire process, including $695 in abortion fees.
She notes that the difficulty in finding stable child care was a major factor in her decision to terminate her pregnancy.
“Maybe someone can watch your child one day and another can’t the next… How are you going to keep a job like that?” she asks, while her mother and son are waiting outside.
“So I was like… I’m not going to have two kids and I’m going to struggle worse.”
© 2022 AFP