Column: All the questions about HB2 you’ve always wanted to ask

Hannah Smothers

I’m more likely to have an abortion in the next three years than I will be for the rest of my life. The statistics say women in my 20-24 age group account for one-third of all abortion procedures in the country.

Thanks to Roe v. Wade, a famous 1973 court case that originated in Dallas and gave women the right to an abortion, I get to choose whether or not I want an abortion if I get pregnant. 

But things have gotten a lot trickier for women in Texas. Last summer, House Bill 2 introduced a new set of restrictions on abortion care in the state. It went into effect in October 2013 and has since shut down over half of the abortion facilities around Texas. 

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is getting ready to hear an appeals case that deals with HB2. The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. David Lakey, already has a long and confusing story behind it. 

Let’s start at the beginning.

What is HB2?

HB2 is a bill introduced by the 83rd Texas Legislature that supporters say is meant to make abortion safer for women seeking the procedure. It creates more obstacles between a woman and an abortion, which in turn makes abortion inaccessible for a majority of Texas women. Unfortunately, when clinical abortion is inaccessible, there is no such thing as a safe abortion.

What is a woman?

Genetically speaking, a woman is a human with two X chromosomes. The sex organs of a woman include two ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus and a vagina. 

What is an abortion?

An abortion is a medical or surgical procedure that terminates a pregnancy before viability, or the point at which a fetus could survive outside of the womb.

Is abortion legal?

Technically, yes. Roe v. Wade gave women in the U.S. the right to an abortion in 1973.

There are two ways to legally terminate a pregnancy in Texas. A medical abortion involves taking drugs called mifepristone and misoprostol over the course of three separate doctor visits. A surgical abortion is a five to seven minute outpatient procedure.

How common is abortion? 

Pretty common. About one-third of women have an abortion by the time they reach 45. Most of these women already have a child.

Why do people get abortions?

Because they choose to. 

How does HB2 affect abortion access?

The provisions in HB2 are so strict — among the toughest in the country — that it’s difficult for most clinics in the state to meet them. There are only seven providers in Texas that do — they are located in the Texas metroplexes of Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth.

What are these new abortion rules?

There are four new abortion restrictions listed in HB2. 

1. More restrictions on the use of the abortion pill, or medical abortion, that increase the number of doctor visits a woman must make for the procedure.
2. A ban on abortions at or over 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases where the woman or fetus’s life is in danger.
3. Physicians must have admitting privileges at a hospital with an OB/GYN department within 30 miles of the clinic or facility.
4. All abortion facilities have to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center. This includes clinics that only provide medical abortions.

So is this the law in Texas now? 

This is where things get fuzzy. Right now, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing a case called Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey. They will soon decide whether or not the state will be able to enforce the admitting privileges and the surgical center clauses of HB2 while the court handles the appeals case. The other two provisions were enforced in 2013. 

What happens if the 5th Circuit sides with the state and upholds all of the provisions of HB2?

According to Mark Jones, the chair of the Department of Political Science at Rice University, HB2 will likely end up in the Supreme Court. 

We’re about to get a new governor. Will this affect HB2 at all?

No. Even if Wendy Davis — who opposed the bill from the very beginning — won, she couldn’t really do anything to repeal the bill. Jones said the earliest chance Texans have at repealing HB2 would be in the spring of 2023, after the state redistricts in 2021.

Until then, small, federal court cases have the best shot at overturning individual provisions of the bill. 

While physicians around the state fight to stay optimistic, the outlook for abortion access in Texas is grim. When there is no way for women in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley — two regions that will be left entirely without facilities — to get an abortion, women seek other, illegal methods for terminating unwanted or unsafe pregnancies. The statistics will disappear and the numbers will go down, but the danger associated with the procedure will increase. 

If this makes you angry and you want to learn more or help, there are several UT related organizations that deal with HB2. To learn more about the legislation and the effects it has on the state, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project is working on a project that assesses the impact of reproductive health legislation. You can also donate to groups like Fund Texas Choice — created by UT student Lenzi Sheible — that help women in Texas arrange transportation to abortion clinics and pay for hotel accommodations and other associated procedure costs.