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HHS panel studies how HB2 affects Austinites

Monday, December 8, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, the Council Public Health and Human Services Committee took a closer look at the local impacts of Texas House Bill 2. After local outcry and international attention last year, the bill passed during a special session of the 83rd Legislature and changed the way Texas regulates abortion procedures, providers and facilities.

In September of this year, Council members approved a resolution directing directed the city manager to analyze how HB2 affects Austinites, specifically.

Sarah Baum, with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, told committee members that, according to their study, 17 percent of women Austin presenting for abortion currently either think abortion is illegal, or don’t know whether it is legal.

Heath and Human Services Assistant Director Dr. Rosamaria Murillo highlighted the four main components of the law: physicians performing abortions must obtain admitting privileges within 30 miles of their facility, abortions past 20 weeks are prohibited, and women must undergo additional doctor visits for medically-induced abortions. Additionally, health centers must meet ambulatory surgical center standards.

Before October 2013, Texas had 40 centers that provided abortions. Currently, 19 remain open.

Baum told the committee that only eight ambulatory surgical enters would be allowed to remain open if that portion of the law went into effect, but a court ruling has allowed clinics that are not ambulatory surgical centers to remain open while the case goes through the courts.

Murillo said that since the law has taken effect, there has been a 13 percent decrease in abortion, though abortions induced through medication have decreased by 70 percent statewide. Baum said that 21 percent of women in Austin who had surgical abortions did so because they were unable to find the medical alternative, despite medical abortion that being their preference.

In January, there were four clinics open in Austin, with three offering medical abortion and surgical. Those clinics had a one- to 12-day wait for a first appointment. As of last month, there are two clinics, and neither offer medical abortions and there is a six- to 12-day wait for the first appointment.

“As you can imagine, because we are talking about gestational age, the further you get, the more you pay, the less options you have … and it pushes some women into their second trimester which has some unsafe consequences,” said Baum.

Women, she said, are coming from as far as Odessa to Austin clinics, which she said could further impact local women’s waiting times.

Council members have also voted to support legislation that would repeal HB2.

This article has been updated for clarifications.

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