Pregnant Women in Texas Considering Home Abortions, Traveling Out of State After Coronavirus Ban

A new policy in Texas barring access to abortion care during the coronavirus outbreak has left pregnant women feeling forced to consider traveling out of state to undergo the procedure or trying at-home remedies to terminate their pregnancies.

In an interview with Newsweek, Dr. Bhavik Kumar, the medical director of primary and trans care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, Texas, described the "frustration" healthcare workers have been experiencing at having to turn away patients seeking abortion care.

Under Texas' new policy, which sees abortion care classed as a "non-urgent" medical procedure that must be postponed during the COVID-19 outbreak, doctors have been forced to cancel appointments for abortion procedures and turn away those seeking access.

The rule had been blocked in court, but it was temporarily allowed to move forward in a 2-1 ruling at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

As a result, Kumar said: "This past week, we've had to tell a lot of people that we're not able to see them for their abortion and patients have expressed anger, frustration... And a lot of people have started to just cry in the waiting room.

"You can only imagine what it would feel like when you've already taken the risk of going out into the community during this pandemic," the physician said. "Immediately, folks start thinking: What can I do now? Where do I go?"

Kumar said some patients have suggested to healthcare workers at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast that they are considering at-home remedies and or alternatives to the abortion procedure.

"People start thinking about, 'what are my next options?' And for some people, that means, 'can I take something at home? Is there something I can buy?'" Kumar said. At the end of the day, the doctor said, women want to know: "How do I get not pregnant? That's what they're coming to us for."

"It's coming out a lot more. We are hearing it here from patients, we are hearing it on the phone," Kumar said.

"We try to share with them all the information that we can, that there are no proven safe methods for people to have an abortion at home and we don't recommend anyone harming themselves," the physician said.

Kumar said that while the clinic did "not have an exact number" on how many patients had suggested they are considering at-home alternatives, "even hearing it from one person is more than I am comfortable with as a physician."

Those who are desperate to undergo the abortion procedure in a clinical setting, Kumar said, feel forced to put themselves and others at risk by traveling hundreds of miles "to a place where they can get access to abortion in a timely manner, which would be out-of-state."

"Some will consider driving, some will consider flying if they can afford it," the physician said.

Pro-choice activists supporting legal access to abortion protest during a demonstration outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 2020. States have sought to implement anti-abortion rules as part of their responses to the coronavirus outbreak. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

However, Kumar said that with many states following social distancing and stay-at-home recommendations and orders to stop the spread of coronavirus, now is not the right time to be traveling long distances out of state.

"We're having them consider this during a time when traveling anywhere is not a good idea unless you absolutely need to," Kumar said. "But people are finding themselves in that place."

Data recently released by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project shows that as a result of the new Texas rule, "many patients seeking care out of state would have to travel 800 round-trip miles or more" to get an abortion.

"Since most of Texas' neighboring states require a mandatory in-person consultation visit and 24-hour waiting period, many patients seeking care out of state would have to travel 800 round-trip miles or more to attend two separate visits," the organization's evaluation said. "Some of these patients may be able to stay overnight and reduce their overall travel, but our prior research indicates that fewer than one in five patients do so."

In a statement published online, Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America asked: "How heartless do you have to be to, in a time of crisis, take extraordinary measures to take away people's health care? Abortion is essential health care, and it is urgent and time-sensitive.

"Those who are caring for their families, forced to work essential jobs, and doing what they can to stay healthy need access to health care right now. Instead, these politicians are forcing patients to travel hundreds of miles putting themselves and their families at risk," McGill Johnson said.

In a separate statement, Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the 5th Circuit's decision to let the rule stand only escalates "the fear and confusion women seeking abortion in Texas are already experiencing."

Kumar said the situation is an incredibly frustrating one, with the physician disturbed by knowing "that I can provide that care. That my physician colleagues are willing and ready to provide this care."

"Taking the Hippocratic Oath and standing by that and doing work that makes people feel better and providing good healthcare is my life mission and purpose and I think having to now tell people that I'm not able to do that when I know this is rooted in politics and ideology rather than in my patients' best interest... it's frustrating," Kumar said.