Deena Winter, Minnesota Reformer
Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix
Clark Kauffman, Iowa Captial Dispatch
“I saw the other nurses standing in the hallway,” said Jenny, a nurse who has been with the clinic for five years and asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of being targeted by anti-abortion protesters. “And I just knew.”
In the few minutes she’d been inside the exam room, the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for Texas to fully ban the procedure she had just prepped a patient for.
Jenny and four other staff members stood in the hallway, paralyzed. They had a dozen patients sitting in the lobby awaiting abortions, all seemingly unaware of the seismic shift that had just rocked the reproductive health care world.
Before they could even decide how to proceed, the door to the clinic slammed open and a young woman ran in, yelling about Roe v. Wade and saving babies. They didn’t recognize her but believed she was associated with the anti-abortion protesters who often massed outside the clinic.
The woman quickly fled, leaving the clinic staff alone with a dozen sets of eyes staring back at them from the waiting room chairs.
“Obviously, that wasn’t how we had wanted it to come out,” Jenny said.
While other nurses addressed the elephant in the waiting room, Jenny returned to the patient she had just left.
A patient returns for an appointment Friday to make sure her abortion treatment was successful. The clinic is still offering follow-up appointments to people who recently had abortions, some of the last patients the clinic may see. Credit: Kaylee Greenlee Beal for The Texas Tribune
“I just said, ‘You have to get dressed and come back out to the lobby,’” she said. “I told her, ‘The doctor will explain more … but we can’t even give you a consultation today.’”
The legal status of abortion in Texas was murky in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s ruling. The state has a “trigger law” that automatically bans abortion 30 days after the ruling is certified, a process that could take a month or more.
But in an advisory issued Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that abortion providers could be held criminally liable immediately because the state never repealed the abortion prohibitions that were on the books before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.
Rather than risking criminal charges, Texas’ clinics stopped providing abortions Friday.
Andrea Gallegos, executive director of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, said she’s hopeful that the clinic’s lawyers may find a way to allow it to resume abortions briefly before the trigger ban goes into effect.
But either way, abortion will soon be banned in the second-largest state in the country. The clinics will close. The staff will relocate or find new jobs. And the people they would have served will melt into the shadows, fleeing over state lines, seeking out illegal abortions or quietly consigning themselves to decades of raising children they never wanted.
The staff at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services are no strangers to bad news. For years, they’ve had to navigate ever-tightening restrictions that force them to delay care or turn patients away.
But never have they had to deliver so much bad news in such a short period of time. Dr. Alan Braid, who owns the clinic, told the women in the waiting room — and those who had already been admitted to exam rooms — that they were halting all abortions immediately.
Some just got up and left. One woman got upset, angrily demanding that Braid go through with the abortion anyway. She had driven hours to make it to this appointment after her home state of Oklahoma banned all abortions.
“I understand why she’s upset, and she has every right to be upset, but we’re not the enemy here,” Gallegos said. “The only thing we could tell her was this wasn’t because of us, it was because of the Supreme Court.“
One woman was on her fourth visit to the clinic. She’d been too early in the pregnancy for an abortion during the first two appointments, but finally, yesterday, staff were able to detect a pregnancy on the sonogram. But Texas requires clinics to wait 24 hours after a sonogram to perform an abortion, so they sent her home.
She arrived at the clinic Friday morning, not long after the Supreme Court ruled. When staff told her the news, she was bereft — rocking back and forth, wailing, begging for the staff to help her.
“I just told her, you did everything right and we did everything that we could, but unfortunately, our hands are tied today,” clinic director Kristina Hernandez said.
Executive director Andrea Gallegos speaks with a few of her employees at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday. Credit: Kaylee Greenlee Beal for The Texas Tribune
Gallegos said it’s devastating to know just how easily they could have helped that patient.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of handing somebody a pill, and for the surgical [abortion], it’s less than five minutes,” she said. “It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s safe, it’s done. It’s health care.”
Instead, they had to send her away.
After they cleared the waiting room, the staff turned to the stack of two dozen appointments scheduled for the rest of the day. They distributed the files, took deep breaths and started dialing.
They explained, again and again: No, you can’t get an abortion here anymore. No, you can’t reschedule. No, you can’t go to another clinic in Texas, or even Oklahoma, or a lot of other states. No, it doesn’t matter if you’re under six weeks. No, not even if you come in right now. No, this isn’t our fault. No, no, no, no.
They offered a list of out-of-state clinics and groups that help fund abortions and travel that they put together when Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. They spent most of the day listening to the busy signals and voicemail boxes of clinics in New Mexico, where abortion will remain legal.
They make this effort because there is little else they can do. But they are well aware that many of their patients struggle to find babysitters for the duration of their appointments, let alone traveling out of state to get abortions.
And even if they can find babysitters, and get time off from work, and safely leave the state, Friday’s ruling is only going to make it harder for low-income Texans to access resources to pay for these journeys. Texas abortion funds have stopped paying for out-of-state travel and abortions until they can better assess the legal implications of their work.
As the pandemonium of the morning subsided, something far worse settled over the clinic: silence. Staff sat around the check-in desk, filing paperwork and tidying up. Someone ordered pizza.
They listened in to televised press conferences, hoping to glean information about their own fates. They talked about where the fight might go from here, and some of the bigger battles they’ve had to wage over the years. They talked about what this meant for their daughters, and the patients they’d treated over the years, and those they would likely never get the chance to see.
A lot of the staff members have been working for the clinic for years. Hernandez was there with Braid when this location opened in 2015.
“This is what I’m good at. This is what I want to keep doing,” Kristina Hernandez says. Credit: Kaylee Greenlee Beal for The Texas Tribune
“This is my baby,” she said. “This is my life, right? This is what I’m good at. This is what I want to keep doing. I can’t do anything else. I mean, I can, but I don’t want to.”
When Hernandez thinks about all the patients she’s been able to help over the years, it’s overwhelming. She’s had women come up to her in H-E-B, years after she helped with their abortions, and give her hugs before disappearing into the aisles.
On days like this, she thinks a lot about a young woman she spent three hours having a theological discussion with before the woman ultimately decided to have an abortion, and her own sister, who decided not to.
The clinic plans to keep the doors open and the staff employed as long as it can. They’re holding on to hope that they may be able to squeeze in a few more patients before the trigger ban goes into effect.
And they’re still offering follow-up appointments for patients who had abortions recently — perhaps the final patients the clinic will ever get to treat.
A young woman showed up Friday afternoon for her follow-up appointment, with her 3-month-old in tow. She’s a single mom in her early 30s, raising four children already.
When she found out she was pregnant again, she decided she couldn’t responsibly raise another child. She’s already struggling financially, and she was trying to leave her boyfriend, who she said was physically abusive.
“I have to figure out who’s gonna watch my babies on the weekends so I can go to work, and it’s stressful,” she said. “So I’m not gonna bring another baby into this.”
She got the two-drug medication abortion regimen at the clinic earlier this week. It was an easy process, she said, and she was hugely relieved to hear that it had been successful.
But with four kids, if she’d been turned away, she said she wouldn’t have even tried to leave the state or find another way.
“It’s not worth all that effort,” she said. “I would have just kept it.”
Disclosure: H-E-B has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/25/texas-abortion-san-antonio-supreme-court/.
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In 1974, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, then president of the University of Notre Dame, warned Roman Catholics against ceding the abortion debate to "crude zealots who have neither good judgment, sophistication of procedure nor the modicum of civility needed for the rational discussion of disagreements in a pluralistic democracy."
This week, the "crude zealots" won. America's Catholic bishops are doing a victory lap over this decision. Four of the five justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade were conservative Catholics. (Chief Justice John Roberts, also a conservative Catholic, voted to uphold the Mississippi abortion ban at issue in the Dobbs case, but did not support overturning Roe outright.)
The bishops have been pushing for the overturn of Roe for decades, and many of them were glad to overlook Donald Trump's moral lapses because he declared himself anti-abortion. In his single term (at least so far), Trump, with the help of then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, kept his promise and larded the court with three conservative justices eager to reverse 50 years of court precedent.
Now these same church leaders are calling on Americans to unite, and for dissension to end. "It is a time for healing wounds and repairing social divisions," the bishops wrote in a statement. "[I]t is a time for reasoned reflection and civil dialogue, and for coming together to build a society and economy that supports marriages and families, and where every woman has the support and resources she needs to bring her child into this world in love."
What planet do they live on, to suggest that such an outcome is remotely plausible? Strife will just devolve to the states. Indeed, a 2021 investigation by the National Catholic Reporter found that major anti-abortion groups were funding voter suppression efforts in key states, endorsing Donald Trump's Big Lie and pushing for future Republican victories. That doesn't sound like "coming together" to me.
Worse, abortion bans could be the first step toward a police state for pregnant women and anyone who may help them terminate a pregnancy. As the New Yorker's Jia Tolentino predicts, pregnant people could conceivably be surveilled to ensure they do nothing to endanger a "preborn" child — and could be charged with murder if a miscarriage or stillbirth is confused with an abortion.
But women who want to get pregnant may also be at risk. The Catholic church condemns in vitro fertilization (IVF) because of its doctrine that life begins at conception, wary that some fertilized eggs could be discarded or used in medical research. If a state decides to take the same position, where does that leave infertile women and couples?
In their statement hailing the Roe decision, the bishops congratulated anti-abortion activists on all the alleged good they have done to support pregnant women over the years. But they might also consider all the money that was squandered on this decades-long struggle, and the moral compromises they made along the way. Trump's narrow election victory in 2016 was almost certainly fueled by older, white Catholics in swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan who listen to what the church says.
The bishops also might meditate on the fact that the so-called help that pregnant women received was clearly insufficient. The U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality among wealthy nations and also ranks poorly on infant mortality, with rates far higher than other major Western nations like France and the U.K.
But the Catholic hierarchy's abortion obsession has had other pernicious side effects. During the pandemic, bishops' nitpicking over the extremely remote connection between abortion procedures and the development of life-saving COVID vaccines meant that the U.S. church did not wholeheartedly endorse Pope Francis' view of vaccination as a moral obligation.
How many hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated Americans died because of those strange abortion qualms? On the bishops' planet, only the innocent "preborn" have any real right to life. The rest of us must adjust to the dictates of what increasingly looks like a doctrinaire Supreme Court dominated by ultra-conservative Catholics.
Obama, making his statement on Twitter on Friday morning shortly after the ruling was handed down, said "Today, the Supreme Court not only reversed nearly 50 years of precedent, it relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues—attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans."
The following morning, Cornyn shared that statement from Obama to his own Twitter account adding "Now do Plessy vs Ferguson/Brown vs Board of Education."
\u201cNow do Plessy vs Ferguson/Brown vs Board of Education.\u201d— Senator John Cornyn (@Senator John Cornyn) 1656164086
Brown v. Board of Education, ruled on by the Supreme Court in 1954, did historical justice in wiping away the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, making "separate but equal" rightfully unconstitutional.
Following Cornyn's initial tweet, which received tremendous heated backlash, he fired off another one saying "Thank goodness some SCOTUS precedents are overruled."
\u201cThank goodness some SCOTUS precedents are overruled.\u201d— Senator John Cornyn (@Senator John Cornyn) 1656181518
"Let's help out less intelligent fellow Americans out," one commenter said in response to Cornyn's initial tweet. "Plessy stood as law of the land longer than Roe. That was [John Cornyn's] point. Now if liberals are arguing Brown v. Board of Ed was wrongly ruled because of long standing precedent, then they should openly say so."
That comment was retweeted by Cornyn. The following replies were not.
One commenter tweeted a photo of Cornyn with the word "racist" in red over his chest.
Another commenter shared an archival photo of a Black man drinking from a water fountain labeled "colored" and asked "You miss this sort of thing?"
\u201c@JohnCornyn You miss this sort of thing?\u201d— Senator John Cornyn (@Senator John Cornyn) 1656164086
And yet another out of the thousands of similar commenters shared an illustration of a Klan hood next to a MAGA hat featuring the text "Evil doesn't die, it reinvents itself."