Texas's near-total abortion ban will affect Poor, Black and Hispanic women the most as other states brace for similar restrictions
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By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, Sept 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One of the first calls an abortion provider in Texas received in the hours after the U.S. state imposed a near-total ban on abortions came from a desperate 17-year-old who had been raped.
"She was absolutely devastated," said Marva Sadler, senior director of clinical services for Whole Woman's Health clinic, an abortion provider.
"She kept saying: 'I want it to be over.'"
As the teenager was about eight weeks pregnant, she was not allowed an abortion under the new law, which came into force this month and is now cited as a model by other Republican-run southern states.
It prohibits terminations - even for victims of rape and incest - once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at six weeks and often before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.
Now the tough Texan rule, one of a raft of new state laws restricting access to abortion, is under threat after President Joe Biden's administration asked a judge on Tuesday to block its enforcement.
The Justice Department's 45-page emergency motion seeks a temporary halt on the abortion ban while its lawsuit challenging the statute as unconstitutional proceeds through the courts.
The decision affects almost 7 million women and girls of reproductive age 15–49 living in Texas.
Among them, a single mother of five - her youngest child is only three months old - who had driven through the night in an urgent dash to beat the deadline for getting an abortion.
With her husband in jail, the woman found out she was more than six weeks pregnant so was denied an abortion, said Sadler.
Traveling to another state to get help wasn't an option as the mother had just started a new job and was afraid of losing her position by asking for time off, Sadler explained.
In the first 11 days of the new law, more than 100 women were turned away from four clinics run by Whole Woman's Health.
"Nearly all of the patients we have to turn away leave without a plan or idea of what to do next," Sadler said.
"We have seen women as early as 5 weeks and 4 days with fetal cardiac activity, which means they do not qualify for an abortion. We have to deliver this message multiple times a day."
Abortion rights groups say 85-90% of abortions in Texas happen after six weeks, so the new law obstructs most women who want to end their pregnancy.
It also disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic Americans, along with poor women, as they are less likely to have medical insurance or the means to meet the extra costs that come with traveling farther to other states.
"Women of color, Black, Latina and migrant women are the ones who will suffer the most. Some of these women will be faced with carrying out a pregnancy they don't want," said Marcela Howell, head of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda.
Hispanics make up nearly 40% of the Texan population, with nearly one in every five Hispanics and Black Americans living at or below the poverty line in 2020.
In Texas, the average cost of an abortion is $575 in the first trimester, rising to $850 or more in the second.
"The cost of getting an abortion is a huge barrier for women. When you have to leave the state, it's leaving your job for a day or two," said Paula Avila-Guillen, head of the Women's Equality Center, a U.S.-based health care and rights organization.
The average one-way drive to a clinic is expected to increase from 12 miles to 248 miles, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization.
For women earning the minimum wage - $7.25 an hour in Texas - that means having to spend more than 3.5 hours' pay to cover the additional one-way travel costs.
"The farther away a patient has to travel to reach an abortion provider, the more expensive, logistically fraught and unlikely it is they'll actually be able to get care," said Lauren Cross, Guttmacher's senior U.S. communications manager.
For Texans, the nearest clinic is in Louisiana - a state with few clinics and one known for restrictive abortion laws.
Restrictions include mandatory counseling and waiting 24 hours before a second clinic visit.
Women in other states are bracing for similar crackdowns.
"Anti-abortion policymakers in South Carolina and Florida have already made it clear they intend to pursue a Texas-style ban," said Cross.
"And there are over a dozen other states we're watching that have enacted a near-total or early ban in the past decade, and who may try to follow in Texas' footsteps," she said.
Already this year, nearly a record 100 abortion restrictions have been placed on existing laws across states in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute. (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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