By Christopher Sherman
and Chris Tomlinson
HARLINGEN, TEXAS: In a Texas abortion clinic, about a dozen women waited Friday to see the doctor, already aware that they would not be able to end their pregnancies there.
A day after a federal appeals court allowed most of the state’s new abortion restrictions to take effect during a legal challenge, about a third of Texas’ clinics were barred from performing the procedure.
Thursday’s ruling made Texas the fourth and largest state to enforce a provision requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital. In places such as the Rio Grande Valley and rural West Texas, the mandate put hundreds of miles between many women and abortion providers.
Anti-abortion groups welcomed the court’s surprise decision, which they insisted would protect women’s health. The ruling came just a few days after a lower federal court put the law on hold.
If women did not already know about the ruling before they arrived at Reproductive Services of Harlingen, clinic administrator Angie Tristan updated them. Abortions are a two-day process in Texas. On Fridays, women arrive there for their initial consultation with the doctor. On Saturdays, they return for the procedure.
Despite Tristan’s explanation that they would not be able to have abortions today, some women decided to stay on the slim hope that something would change.
A panel of judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that Texas can enforce the law while a lawsuit challenging the restrictions moves forward.
The law that the Legislature passed in July also bans abortions at 20 weeks and, beginning in September 2014, requires doctors to perform all abortions in surgical facilities.
But it’s the provision about admitting privileges that has idled Dr. Lester Minto’s hands here in Harlingen, near the Texas-Mexico border.
After the law was adopted, the clinic began preparing to close, shredding old patient records and drawing down their inventory, ordering only enough supplies to keep going for a month at a time.
Minto, who has been performing abortions for 30 years, predicted the women he sees would take dangerous measures in their desperation. He made clear he would not perform abortions today if they remain prohibited, but he did not rule out taking other steps in the future.
“I’m going to continue helping girls somehow,” he said.
Without access to his services, “they’ll do drastic things,” Minto predicted. “Some, they may even commit suicide.”