Pregnancy centers near Texas respond to abortion tourism
Pro-lifers just outside the Texas state line become the last line of defense for some women seeking out-of-state abortions
The 18-year-old girl with long, dark hair said little during her appointment with Amber D’Amico, the nurse manager at the Hope Pregnancy Center in South Oklahoma City. It was mid-September, and the teenager, who had come from Texas, was too far along in her pregnancy to get a legal abortion in her state. So, she traveled more than 400 miles to Oklahoma City instead.
When the high schooler first called Hope, the center staff told her they didn’t provide abortions. But she still came for an appointment because she saw the ultrasound as a step toward ending her pregnancy.
The teen was one of approximately 300 Texas women who have called Hope’s metro Oklahoma City centers since Texas’ law protecting unborn babies with a detectable heartbeat took effect in September. Since then, more women are seeking abortions in other states, some as far away as Ohio or California. Some of them have ended up at pro-life pregnancy centers in states bordering Texas. The influx has given pro-lifers a taste of what it could be like if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and more women traveled out of pro-life states to obtain abortions. On Dec. 5, the court is scheduled to hear a case about a Mississippi law that directly challenges Roe v. Wade.
Since the heartbeat law took effect, Texas pro-life centers have seen the biggest increase in clients, but visits to centers in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma have ballooned, as well, according to data from Heartbeat International about its affiliates. Centers across the board have observed more women seeking early sonograms, sometimes even before they’ve confirmed their pregnancies, Heartbeat International’s Andrea Trudden said.
Hope Pregnancy Center in Ardmore, Okla., a sister facility of the Oklahoma City center, went from getting one or two calls from Texas in an average month to receiving 95 in September, 55 in October, and more than 30 in the first three weeks of November, director Gayla White said. “It appears that many calls are from women who would have contacted an abortion facility directly without first visiting a pregnancy center,” White said.
Tabitha Dugas, director at New Life Counseling in Lake Charles, La., said that when the Texas law first went into effect, the center got close to 50 calls a week from Texas women. More than two months later, she estimated that number is closer to 10 or 20. But patients from Texas arrive weekly at their location about half an hour from the state line.
Dugas and White both said their staff members try to connect women with pregnancy centers closer to where they live, but some women have made the trek anyway. Some callers want to go to the first place they call. One woman from Katy, Texas, who was more than nine weeks pregnant, called inquiring about abortion appointments and made the nearly three-hour drive to the Lake Charles center even though Dugas told her they didn’t perform abortions.
Some centers have taken steps to market their services specifically toward women traveling from Texas. Angela Thomas, the associate director of Louisiana Right to Life, said some centers have expanded their websites’ search engine optimization to reach Texas women. Louisiana Right to Life has purchased billboards on the major roads coming into the states that encourage women to choose life and direct them to a website that lists the state’s pregnancy centers. “Never in my nightmares did I think Louisiana would become an abortion destination state,” Thomas said. “Yet … in some ways, that has happened.”
Centers in Texas’ bordering states seem eager to help, but Thomas pointed out the challenges that come with serving out-of-state women. “The concept of a pregnancy center is more of a community-based, long-term support, right? That’s our thing, is that we’re willing to walk with women, not just in that decision, but as far beyond as we can,” she said. “And so, when you’re talking about this kind of … abortion tourism, how can you help women from afar?”
Destiny Stanley, who counseled the woman from Katy during her visit to the Lake Charles pregnancy center, spent the 20 minutes while the woman was in her ultrasound appointment doing Google searches and making phone calls. Since Stanley wasn’t already familiar with the resources in the Katy area, she had to start from scratch to locate OB-GYNs and women’s resource centers that would accept the woman’s insurance.
To Thomas, a part of the solution is more national networking between pregnancy centers. But she said for some organizations, preparing for a possible post-Roe America will require a mentality shift to “increase our knowledge of how can you most effectively interact with a woman who really has gone down that road and already is in the throes of an abortion decision.”
She also sees significant opportunities: “The advantages of women coming into your state, it gives you the last line of defense … between that woman and the abortion.”
For the 18-year-old at the Oklahoma City Hope Pregnancy Center, the last line of defense appeared to have worked. During her ultrasound with nurse Amber D’Amico, the teenager couldn’t get her eyes off of the tiny, wiggling, 8-week-old baby on the ultrasound screen. According to D’Amico, the girl said she hadn’t realized such a small baby could move so much. Before she left, the Hope staff gave the high schooler information for a pregnancy center near her hometown in Texas.
When the staff followed up with her a few days later, she said she had returned home to finish school. She was planning to parent her baby.
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