Web Excursions 2022-06-16
The father’s girlfriend, who is close to Laura and controlled the household supply of sanitary pads, deduced that the girl had missed only one period. That meant Laura might just beat the six-week cutoff, so the girlfriend hastened to call local clinics. A few hours later, though, she and the father were confronting a fact faced by many other Texas families since the passage of S.B. 8. “Everything is booked out for a month’s time, if you can even get someone on the phone,” the girlfriend said.
For Laura’s family, the nearest option was Oklahoma, but none of the clinics that the girlfriend called had appointments available. In Arkansas, the wait to see a doctor would be weeks—a delay that the father thought would be hard.
At the New Mexico clinic, the appointment to get a sonogram and obtain the five abortion pills would cost the family seven hundred dollars. And, because the trip was so long—ten or eleven hours by car—they would also have to leave a day early and pay for somewhere to spend the night.
Post-Roe, legal authority will devolve to the states, thirteen of which have in place “trigger laws” that would ban all, or nearly all, abortions.
By necessity, the trip to get Laura an abortion would be a family affair. The father’s girlfriend would come along to be with Laura when she saw the doctor, and Laura’s sisters would also be joining them, the family budget being too tight to cover two days of babysitting. The father told the younger girls, in lieu of an explanation, “This is a top-secret mission.” He hoped they might never learn that Laura had been pregnant. But, in a time of regrets about his parenting judgments, taking his eldest girl out of state to have the abortion would not be one of them. “There’s always a crowd of people outside protesting,” he said, of Texas clinics. “They’ve got baby-fetus signs and are yelling, ‘In the name of the Father!’ They’re coming to your car window as you’re driving in.” Even if Laura had been able to get an appointment for an abortion within the time frame demanded by S.B. 8, he couldn’t stand the thought of subjecting her to the shame and stigma associated with the procedure in his home state.
Women’s Reproductive Clinic, which is poised, post-Roe, to be among the last remaining abortion providers in the Southwest, is situated alongside insurance businesses, fast-food joints, and a cannabis store. Last year, it averaged a hundred and fifty-four abortion patients a month. This spring, thanks to Texas’s new restrictions, the number of monthly patients is nearing three hundred. Occasionally, picketers in front of the clinic try to intercept arriving patients and usher them into a large turquoise van, where free sonograms are performed and anti-abortion literature is shared. But on most days a sense of stillness pervades the outside of the clinic, in part because of Juan Carlos, a spry, silver-haired security guard whose gaze alone is said to dissuade those who may be primed for a fight. The greater tension, since the passage of S.B. 8, lies on the other side of the tinted-glass doors, in the waiting room.
If both running a clinic and getting an appointment at one feel fraught these days, early abortion remains, medically speaking, a simple procedure. A woman who comes to the clinic in Santa Teresa will, like women who visit many other clinics in the U.S., receive a counselling session, a sonogram to confirm how far along she is in the pregnancy, and the five pills, all but one to be ingested elsewhere, that will end it. But, as the conversation around abortion grows more punitive, and as states continue to roll back women’s rights, distressed patients sometimes take their feelings out on clinic workers. “They talk to us like we’re the ones that made them be in this situation,” Hernández said.
The bartender told Theard that she had contemplated travelling to Arkansas, where abortions are currently allowed up to the twentieth week, but getting one would require first meeting with a counsellor, as mandated by the state; undergoing an ultrasound; observing the fetus and listening to its heartbeat; getting a detailed description of its development; waiting seventy-two hours before the procedure took place; and, finally, driving four hundred miles back to Houston. How could she take that much time off work.
More troubling was the mandate that he provide each of his patients with a reading package containing information he knew to be false, such as the long-debunked connection between abortion and an elevated risk of breast cancer.
In the wake of S.B. 8, Theard had decided to treat first the patients who had travelled the farthest to reach his clinic—the sooner they got back on the road, the less likely they would be to fall asleep at the wheel on the drive back home. But the receptionists, Negrete and Hernández, sometimes had to tweak his rule when tensions arose in the waiting room, whose atmosphere they worked hard to keep welcoming and soothing.
To Laura, the journey felt like eighth grade in general—an extended nightmare you just wanted to end.
Women pretending to be Theard’s patients often called the clinic, hoping to get guidance about the abortions they are doing on their own. Self-managed abortion will inevitably increase after Roe, as will the accompanying problems. Negrete knew of women who had swallowed all twenty-eight pills at once. Others had shown up at the clinic having inserted the twenty-eight pills vaginally—a popular underground method that may result in a fatal bacterial infection. “Women,” Negrete said in a hushed voice, “are risking their lives.”
Today and in the future, regardless of what happens with Roe, the choice to have an abortion is effectively eliminated already for two overlapping sets of Texans: those who lack the money to travel out of state and those who are unable to risk the journey, as is the case for many women who are undocumented.
Her father had spent twenty thousand dollars to get her and her brother out of Cuba. There was no more money for a baby, so the woman had to request permission from immigration authorities to cross state lines to get to Theard’s clinic. They gave her a phone that had a tracking app called SmartLINK, which routinely asked her to submit a photograph of herself. She worried less about the immigration surveillance than about her husband, who had threatened to divorce her if she got an abortion. “I still don’t know what I’m going to say to him,” she told me.
Having completed medical school at George Washington University, he was deployed with the Army in Frankfurt, Germany, where, he recalled, “there was a lot of screwing going on.” Every week or so, military planes carrying men and women from bases elsewhere landed in Frankfurt, where ten gynecologists, including Theard, were on call. After watching other doctors perform abortions over and over, it was soon second nature to him, too.
No patient at the clinic is called by name, for privacy reasons, so Laura was Patient No. 10. For three hours, Patient No. 10 used every bit of self-discipline in her possession not to turn for comfort to TikTok, knowing that its spangly music and trippy voices might bother the women around her, or provoke more age-appraising stares.
But a lot of what patients experience Negrete and her colleagues will never know, because they don’t reach half the women on their lists. Women often share fake contact details, and, when they do provide genuine phone numbers, some of them hang up when they hear that the person on the other end is from the clinic.