Getting an abortion will soon become more challenging and more expensive for women across the state of Texas. State lawmakers passed a bill over the weekend that would result in some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country.
Abortion providers say the legislation will shut down dozens of clinics, including four along the U.S.-Mexico border.
At a recent rally in El Paso throngs of pro-choice supporters gathered outside the county courthouse downtown. A woman in cowboy boots and a nose ring held up a sign in Spanish that read "My body, My decision."
Several feet behind her a group of school girls in blue T-shirts held up anti-abortion signs and prayed the rosary out loud.
The scene was indicative of the fierce debate happening across Texas. The newly passed legislation will ban abortions for women beyond their fifth month of pregnancy. It will also require abortion clinics to upgrade their facilities to ambulatory surgical centers. Supporters argue this will make abortion clinics safer. Critics say the high cost of the upgrade will shut most clinics down.
"It's certainly going to restrict already vulnerable communities," said Eva Moya, who teaches social work at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Moya has worked in reproductive health on both sides of the border. She said the region is already medically underserved.
"We have the least number of health care workers," she said. "We have higher percentages of people that go without insurance. We have higher poverty rates."
The four clinics that offer abortions along the 800 mile border between El Paso and Brownsville do not meet the requirements under the new Texas legislation.
These border clinics serve women from southern New Mexico, where there are no abortion services, and northern Mexico, where abortion is illegal. If the clinics close, women in this region will have to travel at least eight hours round-trip to cities like San Antonio or Albuquerque. Texas law also mandates a 24 hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion, so patients traveling in this state would have to stay overnight.
“That implies additional costs, additional risks, resources, time away from home, from work, from school in communities where they have little or no network or support," Moya said.
But the majority of lawmakers in the Texas capitol support stricter abortion regulations. Even after a Democratic filibuster that derailed the legislation last month, it made a comeback in the House and Senate during a special session convened by Gov. Rick Perry.
Dr. Courtney Brown, a general surgeon in El Paso, believes the issue of abortion goes beyond regulations. She strongly supports banning abortions past the fifth month of pregnancy. This is the halfway mark in a baby's development, when a mother can distinctly feel movement in her womb.
"Our hearts get hardened towards what abortion really is," she said. "It's easy to say things like 'choice' or 'my body, my decision'. It's easy to say 'terminate a pregnancy' and 'products of conception.' But the more that I've studied and learned about what's really happening in an abortion, it's really an upsetting thing."
Still, others fear the consequences these new restrictions will have in the border region. Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi is a second year resident in El Paso specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.
“Latin America has had a very large problem with 'back alley abortions' where restrictions on abortion provisions have become so severe that women take these matters into their own hands,” she said.
Another option is the drug Misoprostol which is available over the counter in Mexico. The pill is marketed to prevent stomach ulcers but can also be taken to induce an abortion. But without medical supervision, women who take it can put their health at risk.
Before medical school, Moayedi worked in abortions clinics in four different U.S. cities. She says further regulation in Texas is unnecessary.
“Abortion is already safe in our state," she said. "Our clinics are already heavily regulated. Their charts are reviewed by the state every single year.”
The new restrictions will go into effect 90 days after the conclusion of the current legislative session. Opponents have said they will challenge the new law in court.