Dr. Amna Dermish had just finished a surgical abortion in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin when she got a call from her administrator saying that the governor’s order, which had been blocked briefly by a federal judge, was back in effect. The 261 patients they had called to cancel appointments — and then in attempts to reschedule — had to be reached again in less than 24 hours.
“I had to sit down when I got that call,” Dr. Dermish said last week. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Dr. Dermish said she had to tell the 10 remaining patients at the clinic, all waiting for ultrasounds, that she could not schedule their abortions. One woman had a diagnosed fetal anomaly. Another was starting school to become an ultrasound technician. Dr. Dermish said they referred women to clinics outside the state, but also warned them that travel during the pandemic could be risky.
In Texas there is another scenario where an abortion is still allowed: women who would be past 22 weeks gestation, the legal limit in Texas, by the time the governor’s order lifts. But that would mean waiting until the last minute to have the procedure, something few women do. About 88 percent of abortions in the United States are performed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
Overwhelmingly, abortions happen in clinics, not hospitals, but the clinics have also changed their rules to account for the coronavirus. A 24-year-old college student from Arlington, Texas, said in court papers that before an ultrasound she sat alone in her car in the parking lot of a Fort Worth clinic for two hours. She said protesters stood about 10 feet away with signs “and screamed at me and other patients.”
The night before she was scheduled to go in for her medication abortion, she got a call from the clinic saying her appointment had been canceled. She ended up driving 12 hours to Denver with a friend and wiping down surfaces in the cheap Airbnb they stayed in. On the way back they drove into the night.
“We didn’t want to take breaks or rest because I was worried about having my abortion in the car,” she said in court papers filed by lawyers for clinics in Texas.
Not every clinic closed right away. The Houston mother found one that squeezed her in for an ultrasound. But when she parked in front of another clinic early the next morning, hoping to be seen for an abortion, it never opened.