How the Coronavirus Is Affecting Abortion Access in a State Hostile to Abortion Rights

In Texas, abortion access is already threatened as a result of extreme anti-choice legislation—the barriers people face are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Photo: An image with a red overlay of a woman wearing a mask as she rests her forehead on her hand in a worried way.]
There aren’t nearly enough abortion clinics in Texas to serve every community, let alone during a pandemic—a result of HB 2, which shut down over half of the state's abortion providers and increased the costs and distance traveled to receive abortion care. Shutterstock

For continuing coverage of how COVID-19 is affecting reproductive health, check out our Special Report.  

As abortion providers in Texas, continuing to provide safe reproductive health care amid crisis has always been our top priority. We know the necessity of abortion doesn’t disappear when restrictions are enacted, and the same is true during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Texans are growing concerned they soon won’t be able to access abortion care, and some clinics—including the one where I work—across the state are experiencing an increase in consultations, and abortion funds are hearing from callers who are fearful for the future.

“We’ve already heard from people who want to get an abortion before they can’t anymore, and who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19,” said Shae Ward, hotline coordinator for the Lilith Fund, an abortion fund serving central and southern Texas. As a funding partner to my clinic, Lilith serves many of our patients.

In order to protect the safety of their clients, staff, and volunteers, Lilith Fund announced to supporters over email and social media that they have canceled all upcoming in-person events and staff meetings, and called for local efforts with partners to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our Texas community. The organization is continuing the operation of its funding hotline.

Clinics are diligently working to ensure the safety of patients, staff, and the clinic by implementing measures that reduce the risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19.

In addition to good hygienic practices and the use of personal protective equipment, abortion providers are also taking additional safety measures like limiting the number of people inside the clinic to just patients, seeing a fewer number of patients during the day, and screening patients for certain symptoms to avoid potentially spreading the virus. But like with other barriers, this moment reveals that low-income families, people with a disability, and parents will be the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic if they need an abortion.

Some Texans who need abortions have lost their ability to work after businesses closed following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations on mass gatherings. Houston is projected to lose thousands of jobs as a result of closures and event cancellations. Gov. Greg Abbott declared Texas in a state of emergency. With school closures lasting until at least April, parents and low-income families face additional challenges when trying to afford abortion costs—costs that can easily increase depending on clinic availability, loss of employment, signs of illness, or if someone has been advised to self-quarantine for 14 days as a result of potentially coming into contact with the virus.

Safety measures like limiting patients seen at clinics each day and potential lockdowns may delay appointments, which can mean later abortion care and increased abortion costs. For parents who need to secure childcare, additional costs are also associated with the logistical support required. Parents of children with a disability face losing access to their child’s respite care, which makes finding appropriate childcare even harder to find. Disabled people who need abortions, especially those who are immunocompromised, are exposed to additional health risks when visiting medical facilities during a pandemic. Access will also become strained as providers self-quarantine or become ill.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are compounded by the Texas legislature’s aggressive anti-abortion efforts.

Due to targeted regulations of abortion providers, or TRAP laws, people in Texas must wait 24 hours after receiving an ultrasound and state-mandated counseling before they can get an abortion, increasing their visits to the clinic—and their chances of contracting or spreading the virus.

There aren’t nearly enough abortion clinics in the state to serve every community, let alone during a pandemic—a result of HB 2, which shut down over half of Texas’ abortion providers and increased the costs and distance traveled to receive abortion care. Texas has the most cities over 100 miles from a clinic that performs abortions. And with the highest number of uninsured residents, needing an abortion in Texas often means deciding whether or not to pay rent or utilities, sleeping in cars, selling personal belongings, or borrowing money.

Anti-choice legislation has also eliminated the possibility of potential alleviating factors. In Texas, both public and private health coverage are prohibited from being used toward most abortions in the state, and telemedicine abortion is banned. Telemedicine is always a useful tool for people with disabilities or other conditions that prohibit them from in-person clinic visits, but it proves to be vital during a public health crisis.

While the exact impacts of COVID-19 on abortion access in Texas are yet to be measured, what’s clear is that clinics will adapt and do whatever is necessary to continue to provide reproductive health care to their communities for as long as possible.

Abortion funds will continue to work with clinics to aid patients with financial needs, and hopefully people in the community will keep donating to provide the support our government refuses. Reproductive justice advocates are still working toward a world where abortion is accessible to all people regardless of age, ZIP code, citizenship, or income.

My community will also continue to rally behind people who have abortions in every way we can to ensure that access is not just a right, but a reality—even in the grimmest of times.