When Texas’ new law restricting abortion access goes into effect, it could dramatically change the medical landscape in Fort Worth.
Two places in the city provide abortion services and access to other reproductive health resources.
One of those providers, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance has been in operation at its Lackland Road location since 2009. According to its founder and CEO, Amy Hagstrom Miller the Fort Worth location provides abortions to a wide geographic region – from Southern Oklahoma to West Texas. She said the new law poses a threat to the patients the clinics serve
“Part of it is us being worried we won’t be able to keep our doors open,” Hagstrom Miller said. “But that’s because I know firsthand the kinds of stories that come in with our patients, the kinds of situations people are in where they desperately need access to safe abortion services.”
Those supporting SB8, referred to as the heartbeat bill, counter that they are prepared to fill the gaps left by the closing of places like Whole Women’s Health Alliance with services like Metroplex Women’s Clinic in Arlington.
“Those agencies are critically important and they serve, across the state of Texas, tens of thousands of women,” Dr. Joe Pojman with Texas Alliance for Life said. “If abortion becomes more limited, there will be obviously a need for more compassionate alternatives to abortion including adoption.”
Sarah Wheat, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said their four locations around Tarrant County serve 12,000 patients every month. Planned Parenthood provides reproductive healthcare many pregnancy resource centers can’t or won’t fund, like cervical cancer screenings, STI testing and HPV vaccines, she said.
The Texas Legislature is planning on investing $100 million in state funding to the Alternatives to Abortion program. According to Texas Health and Human Services, the program provides counseling and care coordination with services like The Pregnancy Network. For 2020-2021, the program received nearly $60 million in funding from the state.
“That’s a program that funds more than 130 agencies throughout Texas, a number of them in Tarrant County,” Dr. Pojman said. “They provide alternatives to women through resources, financial, job training, healthcare so that they do not feel they have to seek out an abortion because they have no resources.”
The bulk of the funding for women’s health services in the state comes through the umbrella of Women’s Health Services. That funding cannot be used to perform abortions. Instead, it goes toward breast and cervical cancer screenings, family planning services and a program which “offers free women’s health and family planning services to eligible, low-income women.”
That program could receive an extra $5 million in funding in 2022 and 2023, a slight increase from the previous two years.
State Rep. Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, was involved in the appropriations process that allocated the increase in funds to these services. Rep. Capriglione did not respond to a request for comment.
Hagstrom Miller said these centers don’t provide a meaningful alternative to abortions, even with an increase in funding.
“If you have an agenda to talk people out of an abortion or to make people continue a pregnancy against their will, you’re not actually presenting them with options,” she said.
The bill is the most restrictive in recent history and was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court announcing its intention to take up a Mississippi bill that bans abortions after fifteen weeks. In the meantime, the doors of Whole Women’s Health Alliance are still open and performing abortions up to 15.6 weeks gestation. The organization said 90 percent of the abortions they perform occur after six weeks gestation and wold be outlawed under the bill.
“It’s important for people to know that abortion is still legal in Texas,” Hagstrom Miller said. “Our clinic is still open. This law doesn’t go into effect until Sept. 1, and we’re going to do everything we can legally to try to block it from going into effect.”
Bishop Micheal Olson of the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese said he was grateful to Gov. Abbott for signing SB8. He said how pro-life advocates react to the heartbeat bill would prepare them to respond if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.
“We will have a way to be attentive to unborn life and their moms and their dads so that we can find other ways to address the problems that come with unexpected pregnancies in other ways that don’t terminate human lives,” Bishop Olson said.
He said he hoped that religious people would respond with care and love to mothers and fathers who need assistance.
“As religious people who really need to step up to provide care for women in trouble – that’s legitimate care and assistance and help,” Bishop Olson said.
In Hagstrom Miller’s view, care and assistance aren’t enough.
“We’re going to have a public health crisis on our hands because the same amount of people in these communities are still going to need access to abortion and what we’re doing is cutting off their ability to get that access from highly trained medical professionals, like us.”