Extreme abortion restrictions took effect in Texas on September 1, after the Supreme Court declined to block S.B. 8, the state law that bans abortions as early as six weeks and gives private citizens the ability to enforce the law by suing abortion providers or people who helped someone obtain one. The New Republic spoke with two people directly and immediately impacted by S.B. 8 about the chaotic first day of its implementation. Sara, who asked that we use only her first name for privacy and security reasons, is a coordinator with Fund Texas Choice, a group that helps abortion-seekers with travel costs. Ghazaleh Moayedi is an ob-gyn who has provided abortion and birth care in Texas since 2004. Both of them warned that what is happening in Texas is a proving ground for abortion restrictions around the country.
Sara, Fund Texas Choice program coordinator
It started becoming really functionally real at our organization, in terms of what we do, about two or three weeks ago, when we started having an immediate uptick in calls, because everyone was scrambling to get their abortion before the law went into effect inside the state. Typically, we serve eight to 12 people a week. About this time two weeks ago, I had 20 people on my schedule for travel, and it’s just me doing it, and it’s been consistently around 20 people since then.
The past two weeks, I turned nobody away. Once I realized S.B. 8 was coming to pass, I just took everybody. It’s been a mix of panic and frenzy and anxiety with sadness and, I don’t know, a weird existential sort of dread. The stress level is definitely a lot higher. Especially up until today, there was an underlying sense of panic, especially for the folks who had appointments on [August] 30 or 31, trying to get them in. It was a down-to-the-wire kind of situation. Even just in a day, that’s shifted to frustration and sadness. People aren’t really understanding why they need to leave the state to get an abortion. People understand why—they’re talking to clinics, and clinics are educating them—but the bigger picture, why is it necessary for this law to exist? And it’s not. I know why this law exists. It’s to make abortion virtually inaccessible.
I’ve had a few conversations today where we both cried. I had somebody who I was helping travel from a smaller city in Texas to a larger city for a legal abortion because they were under the limit, and everything went fine for their consultation yesterday. And in order to comply with the law, I think the clinics have to do an ultrasound on the second day as well. And just in a day, they can’t get an abortion anymore, because there was cardiac activity on their sonogram. The clinic gave them a list of other clinics out of state to go to. You know, some people don’t want to deal with the stress of traveling out of state. And I think it’s just really overwhelming to already travel inside of the state to get your legal abortion, and everything is fine, and then all of a sudden you can’t even get your abortion in Texas. I’m there to reassure them and let them know that wherever they’ve got to go, we’ve got their travel handled. That’s not a problem on our end. But it was a sad conversation.
Today [Wednesday], I also talked to somebody who was at a doctor’s office getting an ultrasound, and I was like, let me know what the ultrasound says, and maybe you can stay in your city and get an abortion. We had been texting earlier in the week, but it was the first time I had spoken to them about their appointment. She’s going to be traveling out of state. Everybody’s leaving. We’ve had primarily people going to New Mexico or Oklahoma. We’ve had requests for people to go as far away as Seattle or the D.C. area. So we’re starting to get people going further away, probably as closer states start to be booked up. I think it means that people are maybe just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.
I grew up in a pretty religious community where abortion was talked about constantly. As I got older, and I became more progressive, it drew me as something that I thought was really important as a woman living in Texas. I’ve never had an abortion, but I have had reproductive issues. And so people being able to control their own bodies and whether or not they have children has always been really important to me.
One thing that’s important for people who don’t live in Texas to understand is that everybody deserves human rights, regardless of where they live or their circumstances. A lot of people don’t like Texas or Texans because our state government is very conservative, and they perceive everyone who lives here to be the same way as well. We’re kind of under hostage from a hostile state government who makes it harder and harder to vote every year, in super-gerrymandered districts that don’t really represent the people who live in [them]. Not everyone in Texas has really negative feelings about abortion; in fact, I would say most people in Texas don’t think about abortion unless they need one.
But in addition to that, even people who don’t like abortion deserve to have access to abortion. You know what I mean? Even conservative people deserve voting rights, deserve abortion access. So the argument that, oh Texas is conservative, the people there are conservative, therefore this is fine to happen to them, just seems shortsighted to me.
And on top of that, people don’t necessarily have the ability or capacity or desire to leave. I’m not conservative. My wife and I, we’re a same-gender couple. We live in Texas. Our family is here, our community is here. I like Texas. I like my family. And I couldn’t afford to pick up my whole life and move somewhere else because the state government hates me and other people. We shouldn’t have to do that. And people deserve to have abortions in their own communities. Nobody should have to leave their county to get an abortion. And I would encourage people who live in other states to consider the fact that although Texas or Ohio or Georgia are always trying to pass these laws, we’re just test cases, and this is coming to you. If a six-week ban with a civil action clause is happening here, some other ban, maybe not as restrictive, will probably come to your state.
We know that laws like this are going to harm poor people, people who live in rural areas, people of color, undocumented people the most. The situation is out of everybody’s control, and all we can do is help each other. Donate to an abortion fund, a state-level one, an organization that’s on the ground, doing the work. I think a lot of people during these times just donate to Planned Parenthood or NARAL, some national organization. But the people who are helping people get abortions are state-level organizations, doing direct service.
Abortion is still legal in Texas, it’s just super inaccessible. A lot of people assume it’s not legal, but it definitely is still legal to have an abortion. We just might not have as many options. And that’s why we exist, and other funds exist, to help bridge that gap.
Ghazaleh Moayedi, Texas ob-gyn
I’m an ob-gyn and complex family planning specialist. I have been providing abortion care and birth care in Texas since 2004, and have been an ob-gyn since June 2016. I’ve been working in abortion funds in Texas for just as long. I was on the board of the Lilith Fund 10 years ago. I now serve on the board for the Texas Equal Access Fund.
After training in Hawaii to provide abortion care, I was happy to be able to move back to Texas, where I was raised, to be one of 10 or fewer of those types of specialists working here. I provide abortion care for everyone: I take care of my neighbors, people from my community, people that I see weekly, and I also take care of people from hundreds of miles away. I also routinely provide abortion care for people who drove five hours the night before and stayed in a hotel, and then have to stay in another hotel because their procedures require multiday care.
S.B. 8 has been on my mind since it was introduced. I don’t remember where I was when it was signed. My reaction in general was disappointment. There were so many health care issues that needed to be addressed for Texans this past session. We’re still struggling from Covid. We still have not addressed any of the health care inequities that have come to light because of Covid. Our entire infrastructure collapsed in February. Texas children died, and we didn’t address that at all. We have a horrendous maternal mortality rate in our state, and there was a debate—a debate—over whether pregnant people should continue to have health care for more than six months after they deliver. I was incredibly disheartened that we could even have a legislative session, and that people would participate in such a sham.
The national reaction to S.B. 8 feels the same. In Texas, we’ve been warning anyone who would listen that this last legislative session would be disastrous for our state. As S.B. 8 was making its way through, we were really trying to make people understand its implications. Once it passed, I felt like all of us were screaming, “This is really bad, and it’s coming to your state.” Honestly, I would say that barely anyone has paid attention until yesterday.
I’ve seen an onslaught of ideologically driven bills in Texas over the past 15 to 20 years. It’s been over 15 years that we have been sounding the alarm in Texas and in surrounding states that Roe is at war, Roe has not saved us in our communities, and that Roe is not the law of the land in practice. People need to be worried about the tactics happening in our state because Texas is a testing ground. Extremist tactics and language are tried and tested here, and the language is exported to the rest of the country. It’s not just about abortion, either. There are so many other pieces that fall into place here that act to oppress people because of their gender, race, and immigration status. All of those things need to be looked at to ensure freedom and prosperity.
When I started working in abortion care, it used to be that Texas just had a parental notification law. And now we see parental consent laws. We even saw a guardian ad litem bill introduced to give an attorney to the fetus. Three months ago, when those of us who do the work here in Texas were getting ready for the Mississippi case [Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization], it drove a lot of us bonkers thinking about how Roe would fall before the Mississippi case was even heard. I said that many times over the summer: Roe is going to fall before we even hear that case.
I haven’t been working in clinics this week, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. When other terrible political things have happened in this country over the past few years, I’ve been providing abortion care on those days, and it really grounds and centers me to be there for people. This week, many clinics stayed open until the midnight deadline for providing abortion care. I got a phone call from one of my clinics at 8:30 at night on August 31, asking if I could come help finish seeing patients. My colleagues told me yesterday that they had to turn away a lot of people. I work in other states; I became licensed to work in other states knowing this would not be the last time services were ended here. I needed to figure out how to keep working and caring for folks. Right now, I’m working on plans to help get people in my community who are not eligible for care here to the next best state where I can take care of them, too.
I’ve also been working behind the scenes to educate our legislatures in Texas about the bill. This was my first time doing this work. It was fascinating but also deeply painful as an outsider to electoral politics to see how undemocratic democracy really is. Democracy feels dead to me because we only do it in the dark. We can elect all the officials we want, all the Democrats we want if we’re Democratic, but ultimately, our system is not set up in a way that our representatives do what’s best for our community. It’s about procedures, and deals, who knows who, and agreements that some people made that you didn’t even know. I’m the person who is actually in the room, has to be face-to-face with those asking for care, and has to tell patients, “Even though I’m highly skilled and trained to safely perform this procedure, and even though it is completely safe for me to do right here, I have to send you to another state because you’re 22 weeks.” Knowing that decisions over the reality of people’s lives are just made in back rooms makes it incredibly hard to even know what you should do next.
Last night, I had a Zoom get-together with my fund, and it was the first time I had laughed in a few days. The community supporting abortions here in Texas and abortion funds brings me a lot of joy. The funds’ work is 100 percent about centering those most impacted by extremist abortion law. That’s who we serve, and that speaks to the very, very heart of why I became a physician in the first place: service to those people—my people. Having people by my corner who you’re working with and unapologetically stand in their values brings me joy.
Growing up as an Iranian in an all-white community, I used to feel ashamed of being different. As a kid, I sought out outcasts: I found my home in the first-generation community, in the queer community, and the punk community. The lessons from all those communities taught me a lot about being joyful through the pain. I get a lot of my strength and resilience from that. Before I became a mom myself, the goal and the drive around that was service to my community. Once I became a mom, it was about making a better world for my kid. When you’re an abortion provider’s kid, you know a lot about abortion. And you know, this morning, my kid told me, “Look, Mom. You have two choices. You can either move to another country and provide abortions there. Or you can just keep fighting here for abortions.” I asked him which one I should do. He told me to keep fighting. And then he went off to first grade.