, Port Arthur, Texas

June 27, 2013

Beaumont clinic braces for continued abortion battle

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

— A special session of the Texas  Legislature scheduled to begin Monday could force the closing of a Beaumont abortion clinic, as well as most others around the state, if sweeping abortion regulations are passed.

Legislature similar to Senate Bill 5, which failed after a Democratic filibuster in the Senate followed by the protests of hundreds from the gallery floor interrupted the vote just as the clock signaled the session’s end.

Texas GOP-controlled lawmakers will get another shot at the passing a similar bill. Senate Bill 5 would have forced clinics that perform abortions to make expensive facility upgrades, and would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Physicians performing abortions would also have been required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 20 miles.

Fatimah Gifford, director of public relations with Whole Women’s Health, said the bill would effectively force most abortion clinics in Texas to close, including the company’s Beaumont Clinic.

In addition to the Beaumont facility, Whole Women’s Health operates two abortion clinics in Houston, one in Austin and two in San Antonio. The San Antonio ambulatory surgical center that performs abortions would be able to stay open because it already falls within the bill’s regulations.

The proposed facility requirements are so strict that the clinics would not be able to afford to make the renovations, Gifford said.

On average it cost $350 per square foot to build an ambulatory surgical center as required in the bill. By contrast, regular abortion clinics cost  $17 per square foot, Gifford said.

“You do the math, Gifford said. “I don’t see how the new facility regulations would protect women’s health. This bill is strictly to restrict access.”

The five Texas clinics that would be able to stay open — two in Houston, one in Dallas, one in San Antonio, and another in Austin, are all on the east side of Interstate 35.

“That’s a whole half of the state of Texas, so all those women are going to have to run to the existing clinics. I cannot imagine what the foot traffic would look like,” she said.

Gifford said she is not surprised the bill did not pass Tuesday because of the amount of opposition at the capital. The company, she said, does not have a contingency plan in the event that a similar bill passes during a second session.

“We want to remain open. We want to be able to continue to provide safe affordable abortion care to women in our community, but I don’t think the fight is over,” Gifford said.

Tuesday’s action, according to Joseph Ura, assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M, said Tuesday’s events highlight how important an issue abortion has become.

“It was certainly very interesting. Depending on your point of view, it put Texas in a good light, or a bad light,” Ura said.

Tuesday’s events in Texas also demonstrate how the frontier of policy making on abortion has changed to a state level.

“The action is now happening in state capitals all over the U.S. In this state, on paper the rules are about increasing the level of care, facility layout. In practice, they are going to close down abortion clinics,” Ura said.

In Texas, the issue is expected to be considered early on in the new session.

The entire process starts over with lawmakers filing the bills that then undergo public hearings before being passed out of committee. Only then can they be considered by both chambers, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

SB 5 also contained transportation funding and new sentencing guidelines for 17-year-olds convicted of capital crimes, both of which are expected to be considered again in the new session.


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