Texas’ SB 8, the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, effectively outlawing the procedure after six weeks, has been in effect for almost one month. In that time, hundreds of Texans have been forced to spend hundreds of dollars and drive hours to neighboring states to receive abortion care.
According to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, all that traveling Texas women are being forced to do is actually a good thing. In a filing made yesterday, Paxton argued SB 8 was great for interstate commerce.
“[I]f anything, the Act is stimulating rather than obstructing interstate travel,” Paxton wrote, citing the stories of Texans who were forced to travel to Oklahoma and Kansas to obtain abortions.
The Supreme Court declined to intervene and stop the law from going into effect earlier this month on technical grounds. Because the new law empowers individuals from anywhere to sue doctors in Texas for providing abortions, it was unclear who should be sued to stop the law from going into effect. The court was unconvinced by the argument that judges and county clerks tasked with arbitrating lawsuits under SB 8 were the right defendants. The Biden administration has tried a different tack: citing testimony from doctors in nearby states, the DOJ has argued it has grounds to sue Texas based on the impact SB 8 is having on interstate commerce.
One of those doctors was Dr. Joshua Yap, the sole health care provider at the Planned Parenthood health center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the DOJ suit, Yap testified to an “unprecedented” surge in demand for appointments from Texans.
In the first two weeks after the law took effect, Yap said that he treated 69 patients from the state of Texas — a 646 percent increase compared to a normal week at the clinic. And he only expects that number to grow: For the two weeks following his testimony, the doctor said, 240 Texans had already made appointments to have abortions at Oklahoma health centers. Those patients, he added, were coming from as far as Austin, Houston, Round Rock and San Antonio — a five to eight hour drive, one-way.
“Pregnant people from Texas are scared and are frantically trying to get appointments,” Yap said. “They are doing everything they can to get to a state that will allow them to terminate their pregnancies.”
One of “the most heart-wrenching cases,” Yap testified, involved a minor who had been raped by a family member and forced to travel from Galveston, Texas, a more than 7 hour drive one-way, to receive an abortion in Oklahoma.
The distance Texans have been forced to travel is just one facet of the burden SB 8 has put on them. Anna Rupani of Fund Texas Choice, which provides financial support for women seeking abortions, told Rolling Stone earlier this month that the cost of abortion care has skyrocketed as travel costs increased, rising from what was $350 on the high end, to more than $2,000 in some cases.
A district court in Austin will hear arguments to suspend the law from the Department of Justice on Friday.