Austin, Texas – When Trisha * discovered that she was pregnant in May last year, the nearest abortion provider was 482 kilometers (300 miles) away in Fort Worth, Texas.
The 27-year-old told Al Jazeera that she did not feel comfortable discussing her options with anyone in her conservative city or family তাই so she took herself to an abortion clinic when she was about eight weeks pregnant.
After spending $ 150 on gas to get to Fort Worth, she cried in the parking lot of an entire women’s health building before walking to find the process.
“It breaks my heart to know that there are some people in both my community and my family who would inhumanely seek women for these services without knowing the situation,” she said. “There are some more people who are in a place of fear and uncertainty without opportunities and resources.”
Now, after Texas passed the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, Trisha said that if she needed an abortion, she might have to choose a different one if there were laws in the books. “As well as spending more money to travel outside the state and get hotel rooms, as well as hiring someone to go with me, I may have tried to persuade at home,” he said.
The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 8 in May, with supporters calling it a “life-saving measure for future generations.”
Many proponents of reproductive rights assumed that the law would remain blocked in court because the same law existed in the past. But the U.S. Supreme Court refused to act in August, and a court’s restraining order was quickly lifted in October after Texas applied to re-establish it.
This means that the law, which effectively prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and allows anyone to sue or provide abortion services to any citizen. Nevertheless, the widespread ban on abortion services did not prevent patients from seeking help.
Many still attend clinics because the media exaggerated or they misunderstood the law, said Marva Sadler, director of clinical operations at Whole Women’s Health, an abortion provider that operates four clinics across Texas.
But clinics bound by the new law are forced to move people away. “They bring a glimmer of hope that we can help them,” Sadler told Al Jazeera. “There’s a moment of shock, of disbelief that it’s really a thing – then a moment of panic about what to do.”
A similar feeling struck Jesse Leak, a 30-year-old law student in Lubbock, Texas.
“Once the SB8 is operational I panic, because I’m sure a lot of people have done it,” Leak said. “If my birth control fails or if I am raped and six weeks have passed, I will be forced to carry the child of a rapist, which is incredibly traumatic.”
For many years, Leak sought tubal ligation surgery to prevent pregnancy, but it is also difficult to perform that operation in Texas, where doctors told him that they would prefer to operate on older women who are already having children. Faced with the SB8, his search became urgent. He finds a doctor who approves the procedure in early December.
“I acknowledge the privileges I have received through my university’s health insurance, financial stability and access to educational resources,” he said. “Others aren’t so lucky.”
A series of laws
SB8 is the latest law in Texas that restricts access to abortion.
In 2012, patients could formally choose the procedure before the state legislature mandated a sonogram and 24-hour waiting time. A year later, the operation of abortion clinics required formal legal agreements with local hospitals, which forced the closure of most facilities in the state. And in 2017, it prevented most primary health insurance policies from covering abortion services.
But the fight for reproductive rights in Texas paints a picture of a larger, nationwide fight. Opponents of the abortion service have long sought to overturn the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Rowe Wade, establishing the right to terminate pregnancy against them.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump promoted the idea of dismissing Rowe Wade because he appointed three conservative judges to the high court during his tenure.
But even in Texas, where the current fight for reproductive rights goes back years, the idea seemed far-reaching to activists until August 1st. That night, Diana Gomez sat down to refresh the U.S. Supreme Court website.
Gomez, communications director of advocacy group Progress Texas, saw the rise of SB8 through a committee to pass the state legislature in May, but said he hoped the Supreme Court would take action before the bill went into effect, as was the case in other states – level abortion restrictions.
“Once hit at midnight, this is the first case where the Supreme Court has not used Rowe Wade as a precedent,” Gomez told Al Jazeera. “It’s probably one of the first peaks of a grim future where Rowe Wade has overturned.”
In December, the country’s top court will hear a lawsuit from Mississippi about a 15-week abortion ban that could overturn Rowe Wade and pave the way for other states to ban abortion.
Yet whatever the decision in that case, the success of SB8 will probably inspire other states to move forward to block the law or limit abortion services. Such a bill is already underway in Florida. “It’s not just Texas that wants to pass it, it’s a concerted effort,” Gomez said.
For now, Texans seeking abortion services must rely on 10 nonprofit organizations that provide financial assistance to help them travel outside the state. But the amount of requests is more than many groups can handle.
One such group, Fund Texas Choice, said it received 10 to 15 calls a week from people seeking financial assistance to stop their pregnancies before the Texas law came into force. Since September 1, the number of 15 calls per day has increased.
Previously, the agency provided between $ 500 and a few thousand dollars for each patient to access the services. Now, everyone needs an additional approximately $ 1,000 to cover out-of-state travel, accommodation and food.
“The need has grown and obviously, we can’t meet that need,” said Anna Rupani, executive director of Fund Texas Choice. “It’s not sustainable.”
More than 65 percent of the fund’s Texas Choice clients are people of color who are often economically disadvantaged, he said. This means that they face even more financial challenges when it comes to raising a child or traveling outside the state to end a pregnancy.
“Most of those seeking abortion services are already struggling to finish, usually black, indigenous and people of color,” Rupani said.
Amy Arambide, executive director of Avo Texas, a reproductive rights group, echoed this. “Combined with the law, combined with confusion, combined with a lack of resources, thousands of people in Texas will be forced to conceive against their will,” he said.
* The interviewer spoke to Al Jazeera using a pseudonym for confidentiality reasons