The day Texas’ six-week abortion ban went into effect in September, Maria received a text from a friend whom she had supported through an abortion months earlier. “Good thing we did that when we did,” Maria’s friend wrote.
Maria, a Texas native in her 30s, let out a deep sigh of relief for her friend. The abortion restriction, known as S.B. 8, not only bans abortion at six weeks ― a period in which many people don’t yet know they’re pregnant ― but it also deputizes private citizens to enforce the ban. Maria knew the implications of such a restriction would be devastating, and she was so happy that her friend had her abortion when she did.
But as Maria breathed easy for her friend, she didn’t realize she was pregnant herself. It wasn’t until mid-September when she felt “a little off” that she took an at-home pregnancy test; it came back positive. She couldn’t get an appointment with her local Planned Parenthood clinic for another two weeks because they were booked. When she finally got her ultrasound, she found out she was eight weeks pregnant ― two weeks too late to get an abortion in Texas.
“I was relieved at first, realizing that with this information I now know what my options are. But it was like, ‘OK now comes the hard part.’ Now, I have to figure out where I’m traveling to. I have to figure out how to take time off. I have to figure out how to pay for this. I had to create a plan. If any of those pieces didn’t align, I can’t see this through,” Maria, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity, told HuffPost. Due to potential legal ramifications under S.B. 8, HuffPost is not disclosing specific clinics that aided Maria.
Maria is just one of the many people who have had to travel out of Texas to get an abortion since S.B. 8 went into effect on Sept. 1. The handful of abortion clinics left in the state ― many of which still provide gynecological and primary care services ― have been relegated to providing abortion care to the lucky few who know they’re pregnant before the six-week mark.
“S.B. 8 is the most restrictive law that I’ve ever seen, and I think the country has ever seen, when it comes to abortion access,” Dr. Bhavik Kumar, an abortion provider at Planned Parenthood’s Houston clinic, told HuffPost.
Kumar said it’s been very difficult not to be able to do what he’s trained to do, and be forced to turn away patients who need abortion care. The physician and his staff are already hearing from patients who are not able to get into clinics in other states because those clinics are booked several weeks out.
“It feels very traumatic. It feels unethical. It feels inhumane to have to comply with this law,” Kumar said. He added that while S.B. 8 is generally referred to as a six-week ban, it’s actually “a ban on abortion on the day that cardiac activity can be detected.” The Planned Parenthood physician said he’s had to turn away a pregnant person trying to get an abortion because cardiac activity was detected at five weeks and three days.
“It feels inhumane to have to comply with this law.”
Some clinics still offer abortion funds and other logistical support, but in doing so, open themselves up to lawsuits. S.B. 8 financially incentivizes private citizens to seek out and sue anyone who “aids or abets” Texans trying to get an abortion. If someone successfully sues, they could receive a bounty of at least $10,000 and have all of their legal fees paid for by the opposing side.
Since the law kicked in, practical support organizations in and outside of Texas have been working around the clock to help Texans like Maria travel out of state and get the abortion care they need. These groups offer help getting to and from an abortion appointment and sometimes also help pay for the procedure. More often than not, they set up integral logistics that are often left out of the polarized discussion around abortion care: flights, rides, money for gas, hotels, food stipends and sometimes money for child care. (There are also abortion funds devoted specifically to funding abortion procedures.)
“Practical support organizations used to say that we’re the silent backbone, but I don’t like the word silent because we’re not,” said Anna Rupani, executive director at Fund Texas Choice, a practical support organization located in Austin. “We really are the backbone between the date the appointment is booked until after the appointment is done, and then all the way back home.”
Fund Texas Choice primarily focuses on logistical help, coordinating rides and different hotel stays in cities that their clients can access. Around 60% of Rupani’s clients are already parents, and more than 65% are Black, Indigenous or people of color. Every client the organization has served since Sept. 1 is beyond six weeks pregnant, Rupani said. (Maria is Latina.)
Although the majority of Fund Texas Choice’s clients drive out of state, many fly if they have the financial means. Currently, the average round trip for one of Rupani’s clients seeking an abortion outside of Texas is over 1,100 miles.
After the initial shock of finding out she was pregnant, Maria quickly realized she was on a tight timeline. Using practical support organizations similar to Rupani’s, Maria started looking online for clinics in states that border Texas. But each state she found ― Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas ― all had waiting periods ranging from 24 to 72 hours due to state abortion restrictions.
Maria didn’t have time to wait. She started expanding her search to clinics in the Northeast, where she had friends she could stay with and who would provide emotional support. She chose a clinic in a state that didn’t have a mandatory waiting period, and where she could be seen by a provider in just a few days.
The Texas Planned Parenthood clinic where she got her initial ultrasound gave her a hotel voucher for one night and a $450 voucher for the abortion procedure. The procedure is more expensive in the Northeast state she was traveling to, around $600, so Maria paid the difference out of pocket. She tried calling a practical support hotline to get help paying for her flight and the several other nights she was traveling. She called on a Thursday, but the hotline was only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The clock was ticking.
“I can’t rely on the funding. I can’t wait for them to be like, ‘OK we’re going to call you back in three days. Here’s a United voucher. Book your flight,’” she said.
Maria booked her flight with her own money, hoping that the hotline could reimburse her after her trip. Once at her destination, Maria received both doses of the abortion pill over the course of two days. Because she had to get back to Texas for work, the clinic sent her home with an at-home pregnancy test and her follow-up appointment had to be done virtually. Worst-case scenario, Maria will have to go back to her local Planned Parenthood in Texas and get an ultrasound to confirm she is no longer pregnant.
“It’s wild having to navigate medical care in two different states for something as simple as, like, I went home with a bag of pills,” she said.
“Part of the trauma is the psychological harm that the state is imposing unnecessarily on women and birthing people. ... This is cruel by design.”
Maria is back in Texas now and waiting for her virtual follow-up appointment. She’s exhausted ― drained both physically and emotionally.
“Aside from the actual abortion, there’s been so much more lost. And I don’t just mean time and financial resources ― it’s energy, too. I have yet to be able to sit down and look at my expenses but I’m sure I spent thousands of dollars. I spent hours setting up appointments and booking hotels. I have not been at work for over a week and a half,” she said. “Part of the trauma is the psychological harm that the state is imposing unnecessarily on women and birthing people. I’m just so angry. This is cruel by design.”
The word “cruel” was also used repeatedly by Rupani from Fund Texas Choice. “The cruelty is the point. Because they want to harass and intimidate folks into not being able to access care,” she told HuffPost.
Not everyone is able to do what Maria did. The Texas native acknowledged her immense privilege to be able to access abortion out of state.
First and foremost, Maria is a birth worker, meaning she had the vocabulary to find the resources she needed. She had a baseline understanding of S.B. 8, an intentionally confusing law meant to mislead many Texans into believing abortion is completely banned in the state. She knew there would be anti-abortion protesters at the Planned Parenthood in Texas and she prepared herself. Because of the protesters, and the provision in S.B. 8 that deputizes private citizens, Maria drove herself to the clinic to avoid putting a driver in jeopardy. She also knew that the massive bus outside of the clinic that read “free pregnancy tests” was actually a ruse used by anti-abortion protesters to trick unsuspecting clinicgoers.
“If people don’t know how to navigate these systems, they think this is where they’re supposed to check in,” Maria said of the bus. “That’s where they try to guilt you and talk you out of whatever you want to do.”
Most importantly, Maria had the financial means to book a flight and pay for other expenses. She had paid time off. She had emotional and financial support from her friends in the Northeast. She speaks English ― a barrier for many Texans ― and had the “digital literacy” to book appointments online. She doesn’t have any children, unlike the majority of women who get abortions, so she didn’t have to worry about setting up child care while she was away.
What if she hadn’t been able to do all of this?
“Well, it would have been a forced pregnancy,” she responded flatly. “I’m not in a relationship, so I would be put into a scenario where I become a single mother. That’s a really scary thought exercise, but it could’ve very well been my reality.”
Around 75% of people who access abortion are either low-income or poor, according to a study examining the consequences of denying abortion access.
“When someone is denied access to abortion ... they continue to live in poverty, they continue to have consequences on their credit score, on their ability to access basic living need such as housing and food,” said Kumar, from Planned Parenthood’s Houston clinic. “It’s not only those people that are affected, but also the children that they’re forced to have and the children they already have at home. This, in turn, means that they suffer ― and it also causes generational harm.”
Although S.B. 8 is already having a dire impact in Texas, the rest of the country has yet to see its far-reaching implications. At least 12 other states ― including Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska and South Carolina ― are working to pass Texas-style abortion restrictions. And because of the most egregious part ― deputizing citizens to enforce the law ― they will be just as hard to challenge legally in other states as Texas’ law has been.
“This is not a ‘What happens in Texas stays in Texas’ situation,” Kristin Ford, the acting vice president of communications and research at NARAL Pro-Choice America, told HuffPost in September when S.B. 8 first took effect.
Because of S.B. 8, Roe v. Wade ― the landmark Supreme Court decision that protects the right to an abortion ― is effectively meaningless for 1 in 10 American women of reproductive age, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The scale of that damage will only grow if more states adopt copycat bills.
Being back home in Texas has been an odd feeling, Maria said. She is still trying to get back to normal life, but after everything she’s been through, it feels like whiplash. She’s even seriously considering moving out of Texas altogether. In conversation, she kept coming back to an interaction with a close friend she saw when she traveled to get her abortion.
“When I got there I told a good friend why I was there. She’s also from Texas. And I told her, ‘I’m just the first of your friends this is happening to. It’s going to happen to more of us,’” Maria said. “Some of us will have the resources to take matters into our own hands and a lot of us will not.”