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Forced travel and weeks of waiting for Texans wanting an abortion

Shreveport (United States) (AFP) – In an hour, Shayla, a 13-week pregnant Texan, will finally be able to have an abortion. “I’ve been trying (to do this) for six weeks,” she told AFP at a small clinic across the border in her state, Louisiana, a five-hour drive from her home. .

On September 1, 2021, one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the United States came into effect in the Republican state of Texas, prohibiting any voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) from the moment a heartbeat of the fetus is perceptible on ultrasound, about four weeks after fertilization.

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With 30 million inhabitants, Texas is the second most populous state in the country and this law has led patients to quickly overwhelmed clinics in other states, forcing them for lack of space to inexorably delay their abortion.

In February, the Planned Parenthood Association, which defends the right to abortion, revealed that the number of patients from Texas had increased by almost 800% in abortion clinics in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Missouri. In its own health centers in Oklahoma, the increase is approaching 2,500%!

“Once a woman has decided that she can no longer continue with her pregnancy, delaying the act of ending it is cruel,” says Kathaleen Pittman, the administrator of the Hope Medical Group for Women clinic in Shreveport, where she is seen. Shayla.

– Stressful wait –

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“A lot of women are expressing absolute desperation,” she adds. And “we have to explain to them that ending (themselves) their pregnancy will hurt them even more”.

This April morning, his clinic looks like an anthill. Patients arrive from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, with a mother, sister, stepfather or husband responsible for driving them home after their abortions and sometimes caring for their children.

Behind the window of the reception, the phone rings constantly and the half-dozen employees in charge of picking it up repeat the same thing: impossible to grant a time slot, you have to register on a waiting list.

About two weeks later, the patients will be contacted again to set up, one or two weeks later, the first of the two mandatory appointments in Louisiana to benefit from an abortion.

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“This law puts people to the test,” testifies a 31-year-old teacher from Houston who does not wish to communicate her first name. “Not knowing if I could be taken care of was the most stressful part of the process.”

Impossible for the establishment of Shreveport to offer better. “We are physically a small clinic”, justifies Kathaleen Pittman, cornered. “We had to strengthen our team. (…) Imagine what it is (…) in the midst of a pandemic, when the medical staff is already overwhelmed, stressed, unavailable!”

Before the Texas law limiting the right to abortion, only 18% of his patients came from Texas, compared to half today.

Louisiana women are still numerous and also suffer the consequences of Texas law, forced to postpone their abortion.

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– To Colorado –

“She knew she was pregnant a month and a half ago,” sighs a 34-year-old African-American woman, speaking of her 16-year-old daughter wrapped in a blanket in the clinic’s waiting room, a little before her abortion.

A few chairs further on await two other African-Americans from Houston and Dallas.

In 2008, the Guttmacher Research Institute, an organization favorable to abortion whose studies refer, indicated that the abortion rate of black American women was almost five times higher than that of white women.

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While sometimes keeping their secret, these Texans had to overcome a lot of logistical difficulties to be present at their two appointments hundreds of miles from home: childcare, leaving work, sometimes renting a car, paying a accommodation…

A loved one also had to mobilize to accompany them home.

Before a spot became available, Shayla, 27, was on waiting lists in Colorado and Oklahoma.

“It was either having a baby and struggling or traveling,” explains the unemployed Houstonian and already single mother of a 2-year-old son.

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Two associations helped her raise the necessary $2,000, including $695 for abortion.

“Someone can take care of your child one day and not the next day. How to keep a job in these conditions? So I told myself that I was not going to have two children and struggle even more”, she concludes , while his mother and son wait outside.

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