A Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston has turned into a “crisis center” in the days after the most restrictive abortion law in the nation went into effect in Texas, with women desperate and begging for care, a distraught staffer told ABC News.
“People don’t know where to go,” Doris Dixon, who oversees patient access at the clinic, said in an emotional interview Friday with Rachel Scott for “Good Morning America.”
As of Wednesday, physicians in Texas are banned from providing abortions once they detect a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — before many women even know they’re pregnant.
The same day the law went into effect, one woman came in for a regular checkup at the Planned Parenthood clinic, Dixon said. During her checkup, she found out she was five-and-a-half weeks pregnant — still eligible for a legal abortion. But that same day, she also tested positive for COVID-19. By the time her mandated self-isolation will end, she’ll be too far along in her pregnancy to get an abortion under the new Texas law, Dixon said.
“To hear her beg for someone to help her was hard, she was begging,” Dixon said. “For me, I was trying very hard not to cry but the tears were coming down, they were there.”
Out-of-state clinics anticipate a surge in patients due to the law, which has increased the average miles a Texan must drive one-way to seek an abortion from 12 miles to 248, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization.
Dixon said some women she’s spoken to don’t have the financial means or the access to child care to travel out of state for an abortion.
“I’m angry. I’m actually angry because this is an attack on people’s constitutional rights to seek these services. And it’s between them and their doctors,” Dixon said with tears in her eyes.
As of Friday, Dixon estimated 70% of the women who called in seeking abortion care this week were turned away.
“They’ve relied on Planned Parenthood for years and we don’t have the answers,” Dixon said, again fighting back tears. “We usually have the answers — we don’t have the answers.”
Dixon has been working at Planned Parenthood in Houston for 13 years. This is the “worst” she has “ever seen it.”
“I feel like I take it personally,” Dixon said, choking back tears. “I have failed in my goal to help people.”
She said she fears this law will lead to high-risk attempts to self-abort pregnancies. The clinic has already seen at least one woman this week who tried to terminate her pregnancy herself after the Texas law went into effect, she said.
Before Wednesday, no law banned abortions earlier than 20 weeks of pregnancy nationwide. Many states had tried to enact early gestational bans, but they had all been blocked by courts.
The Supreme Court refused to block Texas’ law, which allows anyone to sue a person they believe is providing an abortion or assisting someone in getting an abortion after six weeks. The law does not make exceptions for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape.
On Friday, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas won a court battle to protect their employees from some lawsuits. A judge granted them a temporary restraining order against Texas Right to Life, stopping the largest anti-abortion rights group in the state from suing Planned Parenthood abortion providers and health care workers under the law.
“This restraining order offers protection to the brave health care providers and staff at Planned Parenthood health centers throughout Texas, who have continued to offer care as best they can within the law while facing surveillance, harassment, and threats from vigilantes eager to stop them,” Helene Krasnoff, vice president for public policy litigation and law, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life told ABC News the group is “undeterred” by the legal defeat and would not be “intimidated” by Planned Parenthood.