‘Total Panic’: How One Texas Woman Sought an Abortion After Her State Banned Them

When Texas officials declared abortions "nonessential" amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one woman's abortion plans were derailed. She went on a five-day journey to legally get one.

[Photo: A black and white photo of the silhouette of a woman holding her head as she sits on a bed in front of a window.]
"I had the next 48 hours to get in the right mindset. I went back to the hotel. I have no freaking clue what I did there. ... There was no sleeping. I did a lot of walking back and forth in front of the window, looking out at the downtown." Shutterstock

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After learning she was pregnant, Tiffany, a woman in Texas who chose to use a pseudonym to protect her identity, made what she says was an “emotional” decision to get an abortion—a decision she felt more sure of once the COVID-19 crisis began.

“It kind of hit me really hard,” said Tiffany, a divorced mother in her late 30s who has temporarily lost her job in the health and wellness field. “Could I provide a phenomenal life for another member of my family? I don’t know that I’m really in a spot to do that. There’s no paycheck coming in. No health insurance.”

She scheduled an appointment at a South Texas clinic near her home for Friday, March 27, when she’d be around 16 weeks pregnant. But three days before her appointment, a family member called her to see if she’d heard the news: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) had announced that abortion would be considered a “nonessential” medical procedure for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak—and thus delayed amid the pandemic. The decision effectively banned abortion in the state.

“Oh, shit—now what?” Tiffany recalled thinking. She shared with Rewire.News the “long, lonely” journey of getting an abortion, which required traveling an estimated 600 miles to Memphis, Tennessee, where she was still able to get the procedure on March 27. The following story is told in her own words and has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

A family member who knew what was going on called and said, “I don’t know if you heard this morning, but here’s what’s up.” I said, “Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me.” I called the clinic to see what to do; the person who answered told me they wouldn’t open again until April 26.

So now I was in a total panic. I called the general Planned Parenthood number, and they said I could try to get a hold of somebody in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas—I think at that point they were still on the “essential” list, and they were closest to me. I tried a clinic in Shreveport [Louisiana], but they had a 48-hour hold on making appointments to see if they could continue seeing patients. I lost it; just started bawling. I’m pacing in the backyard, still in my pajamas, just an absolute wreck—coupled with the fact that I’m a mom, and I’m supposed to keep this all under wraps and keep it all together!

Then I called a place in Mississippi, and they said the earliest they could schedule me was a week and a half out. My fear was that with this virus stuff going on, it was going to continue to pick off the states one by one, and these clinics would start closing. What would happen if they closed Mississippi, and I hadn’t made it there yet?

So I kept searching on Google and found CHOICES in Memphis. My first conversation was with a staffer who was just so kind and compassionate. She listened to me blabber—because I was a mess, nothing I said was in order, and I’m crying—but she dealt with it all and got me an appointment for that Friday. I said, “Well, that’s fine, but what happens if they close you? Are you sure you’re not closing?” And she said, “No, we’re essential.”

But then I started worrying about the waiting period, because doing all these calls I learned that different states have different waiting periods. In Arkansas, it’s 72 hours. (Tennessee has a mandated 48-hour waiting period.) The staffer checked, and she was able to squeeze me in for the next afternoon (Wednesday), so that I could have the actual procedure on Friday.

I hung up and called a family member and said, “Here’s the deal: I’m going to Memphis.” Naturally, the response was, “You’re what? There’s a pandemic! People aren’t supposed to be traveling; cities are closed down.” But I knew I wasn’t going to be intermingling with a whole bunch of people.

I packed my Clorox wipes and a cooler of food, and I left that day. I could have left in the morning, but I was worried I’d miss the appointment. What if something happened, like I got a flat tire? I wasn’t sure if there were normal tow truck services, or if AAA would even be able to get to me promptly.

The drive ended up being nine-and-a-half hours. It was torture; I listened to very loud music, everything from lovey-dovey country songs to songs about losing your wife. I was definitely zoned out. I mean, I’m a talker, but for me not to be on the phone the entire time talking to my best friends who knew what was going on … you know that I was in a very odd place emotionally.

But I got to think how blessed I am to have the ability to get in my vehicle, drive across the country, and make this decision. All I needed to focus on was taking care of myself and what I thought was best for me and mine, and I had the support to do that. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to be in Texas and have nowhere else to turn. I’d be a flipping basket case.

I got to the clinic early the next day. I was still worried about the waiting period; I wasn’t sure how strict they were about the 48 hours. But they are—they mark everything on the charts and are rigid about the time, so kudos to them for not breaking any legal stipulations. They checked my vitals, did my blood work, did the ultrasound.

I spoke with an educational counselor who asked me, “Do you want sedation?” And this was pretty huge for me because in my mind I was being sedated—for my appointment in Texas, I’d asked for sedation. She said, “Let me see what I have,” and then she said, “I am really sorry, but we can’t sedate you on Friday.” I’m sure I started to cry, but I also said, “If that’s what it is, it is what it is.”

I had the next 48 hours to get in the right mindset. I went back to the hotel. I have no freaking clue what I did there. I wasn’t sleeping. There was no sleeping. I did a lot of walking back and forth in front of the window, looking out at the downtown. I did a lot of Pinterest. I ordered pizza. I watched Forensic Files and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

On Friday, I drove myself to the clinic for the procedure. I also opted to have birth control implanted in my arm, so the doctor did that first. There was nothing easy or emotionless about any of it—I think I cried the whole time. As far as pain, it was definitely uncomfortable, but for me, personally, that was it. I only stayed in the clinic for about 20 minutes after.

When I went to pay and the lady ran my credit card, I looked at the receipt and said, “That’s not the right number. I didn’t pay enough.” Already, at my first appointment, the clinic told me that someone had anonymously donated $200 to help me with expenses. But then the lady at the desk said, “You had a second anonymous donor.”

And because I’m a crier, I broke down. I just couldn’t be more appreciative. Already, I was paying more than $700 for the hotel and gas. It just goes to show that there are good people out there.

I left for home at 7:30 the next morning. The hotel check-out wasn’t until 11, but there was no sleeping for me, and I thought the sooner I get on the road, the better. I was just focused on being home. But it was a really long, lonely trip, and I still feel like I’m an emotional wreck.

I attend a Christian-based church, and I’m a spiritual person as well. I definitely believe there’s a power greater than ourselves. But I also believe in free will. It’s up to us to make the right choices for ourselves.

I made the best decision for my current circumstances, and the people in my life, and I definitely believe it’s an individual’s choice. The government—especially a man—shouldn’t be putting anyone in this kind of predicament. It’s awful, and it shouldn’t be going on, not at all.