Today, Whole Woman’s Health turns 11 years old. From opening our first clinic in Austin in 2003 to expanding to seven other communities across Texas, Maryland, and Minnesota, we’ve been putting our patients at the center of everything that we do. 2013 was a very tough year for us, but we’ve weathered the storm so far to keep abortion safe and accessible as long as we can.
Here’s to our supporters, our colleagues, our patients, our families, and our friends. Join us as we keep serving our communities, old and new, through 2014 and beyond.
Yesterday, an article written by Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check investigated the lack of abortion access in the Rio Grande Valley, featuring our clinic in McAllen that had to stop performing abortion procedures after the implementation of House Bill 2.
“The stillness belies the many duties recently taken on by the skeleton crew of clinic workers left to manage the phone line and pre-operative counseling, seeing patients who are now facing a 300-mile round-trip drive to Corpus Christi, or a 500-mile round-trip drive to San Antonio, to the nearest safe, legal abortion providers.
‘Now I can actually hear my echoing footsteps,’ said Lucy, one of two remaining full-time clinic workers who are keeping up with day-to-day operations at Whole Woman’s McAllen in the wake of the enforcement of HB 2, Texas’ restrictive new anti-abortion law. It is late November 2013, and the doctor who performs abortions at the clinic hasn’t been able to secure admitting privileges at a local hospital, ending the abortion care that the clinic provided for the past nine years under Whole Woman’s Health name, and for 30 years before that under a prior owner.”
The article is very well-researched and informative, serving as a somber reminder that this is the reality that a post-House Bill 2 Texas is living in. Come September, the last and most damaging provision that requires all abortion clinics to be equipped to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers will go into effect, closing most of the clinics in the state and leaving rural residents at risk. Being one of the most low-income communities in the nation, the Rio Grande Valley is a primary example of where we’re headed.
When concerns for the women of the Rio Grande Valley were brought up to Judge Edith Jones during the Planned Parenthood v Abbott trial in the 5th Circuit District Court, she suggested that Texas’ flat landscape and high speed limits were enough to fix the problem. This attitude – the kind where one assumes that people living in a very low income area have the money to afford a car, gas, childcare, and time off work to drive a 300 mile roundtrip for an appointment – is not one that a public official should have when they’re deciding the fate of very influential laws that affect a lot of people.
While we wait for the 5th Circuit’s decision on House Bill 2 and our next step in fighting the law, this is the inevitable.
Today the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in McCullen v Coakley, a case in which anti-choice protesters claim that a Massachusetts buffer zone law requiring picketers to stay at least 35 feet from a clinic entrance violates their right to free speech. Should the high court side with McCullen and others, places like Portland, Maine, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Chicago would no longer be able to enforce their buffer zone laws and ordinances passed to protect patients seeking abortion care in the facilities that serve those areas.
In the case of Hill v Colorado in 2000, SCOTUS sided with Colorado’s current buffer zone law, stating that protesters’ First Amendment rights to free speech were not violated when buffer zones were enforced. In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Stevens wrote that it only makes it more difficult to give unwanted advice to someone seeking an abortion:
“Although the statute prohibits speakers from approaching unwilling listeners, it does not require a standing speaker to move away from anyone passing by. Nor does it place any restriction on the content of any message that anyone may wish to communicate to anyone else, either inside or outside the regulated areas. It does, however, make it more difficult to give unwanted advice, particularly in the form of a handbill or leaflet, to persons entering or leaving medical facilities.”
McCullen v Coakley is a direct challenge to Hill v Colorado, and the court’s decision to hear the case has abortion providers and pro-choice advocates more than a little concerned. Appeals court judges have all upheld that buffer zone laws are a good balance of rights for both protesters and the clinics that they target, giving patients and staff access to the building while also allowing picketers to maintain their right to free speech but not to incite violence or block access to clinics. When issuing his opinion on McCullen, First Circuit Judge Selya called the plaintiff’s allegations of First Amendment violation a “creative recalibration of First Amendment principles”.
As Robin Marty asks in her Think Progress piece, “By taking up McCullen, is the Supreme Court signaling it sees something different than the previous courts did?” Even though the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994 has prohibited protesters from blocking patients and staff from clinics, buffer zones have since protected patients from further harassment that could become, and has become, violent behavior.
Buffer Zones Do as They’re Intended
The National Abortion Federation (NAF) filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Massachusetts, showing that supporting and allowing for buffer zones is a necessary way for the state to exercise its interests in protecting clinics, their staff, and their patients from violence:
“Despite these precautions, reproductive healthcare facilities regularly encounter violence and obstructed access to this day. The most recent murder of a physician who provided abortions occurred in 2009. By 2010, one out of every five reproductive healthcare facilities was afflicted by anti-abortion violence. In 2012 alone, five facilities suffered arsons. From 2007 to 2012, there were at least eight arsons, six attempted arsons or 3 bombings, 41 incidents of assault and battery, and more than 200 acts of vandalism of facilities. Much of this violence occurs in the areas immediately surrounding reproductive healthcare facilities. Given this continuing reality, a buffer zone immediately surrounding facility entrances helps secure patient and staff access to the facilities, and is a narrowly-tailored response to the States’ significant law enforcement interests. In fact, surveys show that buffer zones have decreased violence, obstruction and intimidation outside of reproductive healthcare facilities. This improved situation compels the continuation, and not the dismantling, of buffer zone laws.”
NAF also recommends buffer zones in its Legal Remedies to Address Clinic Violence and Harrassment handbook, and lists a state-by-state collection of ordinances and injunctions that help protect clinics. Though some buffer zones were struck down before the decision in Hill v Colorado, NAF believes that “if similar ordinances were introduced today they would likely survive a constitutional challenge.” In regards to McCullen, we certainly hope that’s true.
Freedom of Speech ≠ Freedom of Violence or Harassment
US News and World Report quotes President of Massachusetts Citizens for Life Anne Fox on the lawsuit:
“We consider it a First Amendment issue, because it’s a law that targets very certain facilities, just abortion facilities,” says Anne Fox, the [Massachusetts Citizens for Life] president. Protests outside corporate buildings or by animal rights activists, for example, do not have protests “buffer zones.” Fox says the zones also make it nearly impossible for anti-abortion activists to speak freely to women walking into clinics to get an abortion.
While we wholeheartedly agree that the First Amendment grants anyone the right to say and believe what they choose as well as assemble in protest, it grants no one the right to use tactics like violence, harassment, stalking, or murder as a means of “free speech”. Being forced to stand 35 feet away from the entrance to a clinic, while making it more difficult to directly engage with a patient, does not obstruct a protester’s right to assemble or tell them what they can or cannot say and believe. A buffer zone is created so that a picketer can’t get into a woman’s face, follow them to the door, or make any harmful actions against her when she’s walking into a facility.
From Adam Liptak of the New York Times writes:
Law professors defending the 2007 Massachusetts law filed a supporting brief in the case, McCullen v. Coakley, No. 12-1168, pointing out that buffer zones also exist around polling places and funerals. In a supporting brieffiled for Planned Parenthood, Walter E. Dellinger III, a former acting United States solicitor general, reminded the Supreme Court that it forbade protests on its own plaza.
As the court hears arguments today we, like many others, will be watching for the decision to see if they uphold the standards that were rightfully set in Hill. Until then the question remains: If SCOTUS interprets the creating of safe, protective spaces for women in communities with high instances of anti-choice violence as an encroachment on free speech, what kind of precedent does that set for future First Amendment cases?
We received this thank you card from a previous patient of ours at Whole Woman’s Health of Austin, thanking us for the care she experienced with the staff in the clinic and telling us how important it is that access remain open in Texas. It’s the support and empowerment from our patients that reminds us the most about just what we’re here to do and it helps us keep providing the great level of care that we’ve always provided. The inside of the card reads:
“To [name omitted] and all of the staff that helped me through a tough procedure on [date omitted]. I was the one whose blood pressure dropped like crazy not too long after the procedure. I wanted to show my gratitude for all that you did for me before, during, and after my abortion. Like many women, I never, ever thought that I would have an abortion and I was scared to death to have it done. But you all show a lot of love and gave me a new perspective on this procedure - that I’m not alone, that it’s not my fault, that it needs to be talked about, and that I should be proud for making the best decision that I could at the moment. I’m so thankful that Whole Woman’s Health exists to support women and I know my life has been changed for the better for what you all have done. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for caring and for continuing to offer women a choice and for persevering with what is probably a very difficult job. I also want to thank [name omitted] for her efforts in providing me an IUD…
…I’m so thankful for my new contraception! I’m having no issues whatsoever with it. What a miracle contraception.
Thank you all so much! Love, [name omitted].”
We are so excited to announce that, as of today, we are able to open our doors again at our clinic in Fort Worth. On Halloween night, when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned our injunction handed down to us by Judge Yeakel, we were devastated to find out that our Ft. Worth and McAllen clinics would have to stop providing services and our San Antonio clinic would have to go to a reduced schedule. Now, in Ft. Worth, we can start providing care for women once again.
This is a highly welcomed bit of good news for us. Our primary mission is to restore care in all of our communities in Texas, and Whole Woman’s Health of Fort Worth was a very integral piece of that mission.
We recognize that Texas women are still highly affected by House Bill 2, and so we are able to help patients in our clinics pay for procedures, transportation, lodging, etc. through our Whole Woman’s Texas Action Fund.
We will bring you more updates as soon as we have them.
As you may have heard last night, The Supreme Court of the United States issued a 5-4 ruling refusing to intervene into the 5th Circuit Court’s decision to allow House Bill 2 to be implemented in Texas, citing that there was not enough evidence that the court’s decision is causing harm to Texas women.
The Supreme Court’s majority opinion was a short nine pages, ending with Justice Scalia saying that “there is no doubt that the applicants have not carried their heavy burden of showing that doing so was a clear violation of accepted legal standards-which do not include a special “status quo” standard for laws affecting abortion. The Court is correct to deny the application.”
In the even shorter dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer cited four reasons for disagreeing with the court’s majority opinion. In his fourth reason, he sided with abortion providers, saying that “the balance of harms tilts in favor of the applicants” and that “If the law is invalid, the injunction properly prevented the potential for serious physical or other harm to many women whose exercise of their constitutional rights to obtain an abortion would be unduly burdened by the law. And although the injunction will ultimately be reinstated if the law is indeed valid, the harms to the individual women whose rights it restricts while it remains in effect will be permanent.”
From our press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
11/20/2013-AUSTIN, TX Thousands of women will continue to be denied their constitutional rights and access to abortion services in Texas following an order issued today by a majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to reinstate an injunction blocking a measure that has forced approximately one-third of the state’s licensed health centers providing safe and legal abortion to immediately stop.
In dissenting from the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote: “Although the injunction will ultimately be reinstated if the law is indeed invalid, the harms to the individual women whose rights it restricts while it remains in effect will be permanent.”
Whole Woman’s Health is the lead plaintiff in the case represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights with clinics in Austin, Beaumont, Fort Worth, McAllen and San Antonio and has been providing safe, compassionate abortion services to women in Texas communities for over 10 years.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO and President of Whole Woman’s Health states, “The reversal of the injunction to block HB 2 has greatly affected Whole Woman’s Health staff, doctors and the women we serve all across Texas. The stories we have collected in our clinics from women and their families as they confront this injustice over the past three weeks are heartbreaking.”
The provision, which took effect on October 31 after a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed a lower court’s injunction, requires all abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital-a measure that has halted abortion services at more than a dozen clinics across Texas.
Hagstrom Miller continues, “The fact is that the hospital privileging process is not simple nor is it efficient. We have highly trained physicians who are qualified for privileges, and we have countless applications in to multiple hospitals throughout the state. But this is not about physician training or qualifications, this is about politics. To date, more than one hospital has denied even sending our MDs an application for privileges because of their affiliation with Whole Woman’s Health – and these are board certified, published, and accomplished OB/Gyns. Make no mistake; this law was designed to block access to abortion for Texas women. And it is working.”
Immediately after U.S District Judge Lee Yeakel issued an injunction against the measure on October 28, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed the decision and asked the appellate court to lift the injunction put into place by Judge Yeakel’s decision pending the outcome of the appeal. The Fifth Circuit granted the state’s request late on October 31, allowing the state to immediately start enforcing the unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement while the case challenging the law proceeds.
Whole Woman’s Health will continue to advocate for women and find ways to help women get the safe healthcare that they need. Hagstrom Miller reminds us, “Women deserve our compassion, empathy and advocacy. We stand with Texas women.”
Our case is still expected to be heard by the Supreme Court after it goes through the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in January.
As of this moment last nights event raised over $54,000 for @lilithfund @WholeWomans @FundTexasWomen and @TEAFund! #TexasSolidarityForever—
Alison Turkos (@alisonturkos) November 19, 2013
Last night’s event out of New York, Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can Choose, was hilarious, well-planned, and was viewed by over 40,000 people at one time on the Ustream channel. The event was hosted by Lizz Winstead and Sarah Silverman and featured many star-studded guests including Heather Busby, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, and Jessica Luther, a blogger based out of Austin that helped spur the movement that happened at the Capitol this summer and beyond. As of today, we’ve raised over $54,000!
Here are some of our favorite things that happened from the night, including #vagnapkin and #orangeisthenewvag:
When Sarah Silverman shoved a napkin down her pants and then auctioned it off:
Or when the cast of Orange is the New Black auctioned off their call sheet from an episode they filmed earlier that day:
Last night, #TexasWomenForever was one of the top trends on Twitter.
And a woman who was chronicled in New York Magazine for her story on abortion gave a moving speech:
Throughout the night, a person in a giant vulva costume would come up on stage and give an update on how much money was raised as well as a quote from an anti-choice person trying to take over the #TexasWomenForever hashtag on Twitter:
Even Wendy Davis had something to say about the event:
Mario Batali promised to match up to $5,000 in support of the event:
At the end of the night, Lizz and Sarah announced V to Shining V, a campaign to expose the anti-choice movement’s efforts to subvert women’s access to abortion care throughout the nation.
.@lizzwinstead announces V to Shining V, a website and movement to expose anti-choice actions. #TexasWomenForever—
Whole Woman's Health (@WholeWomans) November 19, 2013
We are completely grateful for all of the work that’s been done from these fine folks and we can’t even begin to express how important they are in our fight to reclaim Texas. It’s events like these that keep us going (both mentally and financially). The women of Texas, especially, thank you the most.
"The last thing our opposition wants is for women to get together and be a force, so let's do that." @SarahKSilverman #TexasWomenForever—
Whole Woman's Health (@WholeWomans) November 19, 2013
Tonight! Join us for Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can Choose, an online telethon fundraiser hosted by Lizz Winstead and Sarah Silverman. You can view this fundraiser from anywhere in the world by watching it on the Ustream channel provided by Lady Parts Justice. There are various watch parties happening across the country, but if you’re in Austin and want to attend the watch party with all of the beneficiaries, we are having one at The North Door to watch it on the big screen!
Here’s who will be in attendance at the fundraiser, from the event page:
Amy Schumer, Emily Mortimer, Natasha Lyonne, Yael Stone,Jessica Pimentel, Lea DeLaria, Dascha Polanco, Jemima Kirke, Kathy Najimy, Tennessee Thomas, Ambrosia Parsley, Holly Miranda John Fugelsang, Alysia Reiner, Zoe Kazan, Comedian/Writer/Musician/Man-About-Town Dave Hill, Dean Obeidallah of The Muslims Are Coming, Lynne Procope, Joan Walsh, Sally Kohn, Anthea Butler, Phoebe Robinson, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Syreeta McFadden of Feministing.com, Angela McCluskey music, Alexa Chung and Sarah Slamen & Jessica Luther!
We also have amazing surprises from sponsor organizations like Babeland Nyc, (two words: giant vulva), and the number of organizations and businesses supporting this cause will blow your mind and lift you up!
#TexasWomenForever, y’all. This has been an incredibly difficult last few months, but it’s the outpouring of encouragement and support like this that keeps us moving forward.
From our Press Release:
COURT DECISION PROTECTS ABORTION ACCESS FOR MOST WOMEN IN TEXAS, BUT UPHOLDS RESTRICTIONS ON MEDICATION ABORTION
Ruling blocks provision that would have made safe, legal abortion non-existent for one in three Texas women
AUSTIN, TX 10/28/2013 - After a three day trial, a federal court today permanently struck down one provision of a recently enacted, deeply unpopular law – a measure that would have made safe and legal abortion services for one-third of women in Texas virtually impossible to access.
While U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel blocked implementation of a requirement that all abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, today’s ruling has allowed another harmful measure to take effect on October 29 – one that severely restricts the use of medication abortion, a safe and effective method to end an early pregnancy.
“We are very relieved that Judge Yeakel blocked implementation of the admitting privileges requirement and that we do not need to close our facilities in McAllen, Fort Worth and San Antonio,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO, Founder and President of Whole Woman’s Health. “This decision will keep thousands of women safe and allows our Whole Woman’s Health clinics to continue to provide compassionate, professional care to women in our communities. The staff and physicians working with Whole Woman’s Health have been on edge for weeks, and most especially today; our patients have been calling and asking over and over if they will be able to be seen tomorrow. We are thankful for the Judge’s ruling and relieved to be able to continue care for the women who need us most.”
Hagstrom Miller continues, “We are disappointed that Judge Yeakel did not also block the severe restrictions on medication abortion. Nearly 40% of the women we serve at Whole Woman’s Health choose medication abortion and now Texas is preventing these women from the advances in medical practice that other women across the United States will be able to access. These restrictions are not based on sound medical practice.”
The dangerous and unconstitutional provisions blocked today were part of a package of legislation signed by Governor Rick Perry on July 18 following a series of special legislative sessions, but opposed by 80 percent of Texas voters, according to a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Medical experts in Texas and across the country, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Hospital Association, also publicly opposed provisions in the law because they provide no medical benefit to women and will actually jeopardize women’s health and safety.
[end press release]
We are so excited about Judge Yeakel’s ruling today, even though it only blocks one provision of House Bill 2. Yeakel has made a decision that requiring doctors who provide abortion services to get hospital admitting privileges is unconstitutional and poses a massive burden on us, the plaintiffs. In his ruling, he also said that we did not provide enough proof of burden to have an injunction against the outdated FDA protocols for administering a medical abortion, though he did add an exception that made the alternate FDA protocol used by most physicians permissible if it was “necessary for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.” You can read his opinion here. Although we wish it were true, the multiple media reports earlier today that all of HB 2 had been struck down are unfortunately not true.
While today is definitely cause for happiness, we have been told by the Center for Reproductive Rights that the state has already appealed Judge Yeakel’s ruling, setting the course for us to head to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Onward and upward. #FightBackTX
Today is the day, folks.
By 12pm, we should have an answer from Judge Yeakel on whether or not we have an injunction for one or both of the provisions of House Bill 2 that we sued the state over. Click here for a review on those provisions.
There are two provisions that aren’t included in Planned Parenthood v Abbott, and one of them goes into effect tomorrow regardless of the judge’s ruling: the 20 Week Ban on Abortion in Texas. We thought we would give you a description on precisely what that means for a woman seeking abortion care in Texas who’s past the 20 week mark in gestational age.
The 20 Week Ban is two-pronged due to a hidden provision within it that requires us to provide the name of a hospital within 30 miles of our clinics to all of our patients. This is in case the patient ends up having serious complications after she receives our care even though, contrary to what our opponents in this case consistently maintain, abortion is one of the safest procedures in medicine. The reality is that there is less than a 1% complication rate with abortions; we have been enabled to complete these procedures in regular clinic settings because there are no incisions and the risk of infection is minimal.
The 20 Week Ban does affect us greatly as we spent the last week changing all of our reporting forms and training all of our staff so that we could be compliant with this law, but the wording of the law is strange. The ban’s language says that it is “restricting elective abortions at or later than 20 weeks post-fertilization”, which means that we will be able to provide services to women who are 21 weeks and 6 days since her last menstrual period or 19 weeks and 6 days gestational age.
There are also two exceptions to this regulation:
· “severe fetal indication”
· “To avert the woman’s death or a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function”
Unfortunately, the state did not provide exceptions for rape or incest.
We have always been proponents of encouraging women to be at the center of their own healthcare decisions. When they are potentially faced with a situation in which a pregnancy may have to be terminated past the 21.6 LMP marker, it’s unfortunate that they will not be afforded the option to do so. This creates an unnecessary barrier. Remember that reducing access and creating barriers for abortion doesn’t eliminate the need; women will still need to terminate a pregnancy for one personal reason or another.
At Whole Woman’s Health we take pride in our service model in which we consistently and continuously provide exemplary service to all women, no matter their circumstances. We serve a diverse group of populations within our communities, and even though HB2 happened to us, we will not stop being that voice for women in addition to providing compassionate, safe abortion care.
We have notified all of our staff that we won’t stop fighting HB2, and that this 20 week ban won’t stop Whole Woman’s Health from providing the stellar service that we have been committed to providing our Texas Communities for the past 10 years. Therefore, we began preparation early on by educating our patients on what the law means and how to apply it to their current situations. Some women would contact us not knowing what the legal status on abortion is, with some even thinking that abortion is completely illegal in Texas. It is our responsibility to make sure that all women in Texas know that abortion is still legal, and Whole Woman’s Health will continue to provide these services to those women while still complying with some laws and fighting other ones.