"There was no rhyme. It was a pure push to get everyone that walked in that door yesterday completed before 11:59 p.m."
The staff at an abortion clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, worked until midnight last week Tuesday to provide service for their patients right until the last moment before the state's new restrictive abortion law came into effect. "Honestly, there was no rhythm. There was no rhyme. It was a pure push to get everyone that walked in that door yesterday completed before 11:59 p.m.," Marva Sadler, Whole Woman's Health director of clinical services, told ABC News. Sadler — who was present at the clinic assisting the push to serve patients — explained that for a moment, she felt proud to be able to provide care for the patients for as long as they still legally could.
However, the feeling "was immediately replaced by the thought that we were going to come in this morning and have to turn so many women away," she added. Texas' Senate Bill 8 went into effect at midnight on September 1, banning physicians from providing abortions "if the physician detects a fetal heartbeat," including embryonic cardiac activity, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The law also prohibits the state from enforcing the ban and instead authorizes private citizens to bring civil suits against anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion.
Whole Woman's Health, other independent abortion providers, and Planned Parenthood clinics are still providing abortion care in Texas in strict adherence to the new law. However, Amy Hagstrom Miller — founder and CEO of Whole Woman's Health — explained on a press call that since the ban is so soon after a person may be able to detect a pregnancy, "the tragedy is that we can only provide abortion for about 10% of the people that we could provide abortion for yesterday."
Sadler revealed that as patients seeking abortions had heard about the upcoming law, their clinic's "schedule was full because patients knew it was their last resort." "They made those appointments and were willing to come in and wait with us and to be patient with us, in almost a desperation to be seen," she added. While the clinic typically sees about 15 procedures and 20 medication abortion patients in a day, on the eve of the new law coming into effect, the staff completed 67 in-office procedures and more than 50 follow-up appointments for medication abortions.
They finished the last procedure of the day at 11:56 p.m. In addition to raising the clock, Sadler said the staff also had to bear with anti-abortion protesters who stood outside the clinic until midnight, shining flashlights on the parking lot as patients entered and exited. They allegedly also tried to slow down work by calling both the police and fire department on the clinic. While the office usually has clinic escorts and a security guard to shield patients from protesters, they didn't have those resources on August 31 due to the last-minute rush. According to Sadler, the staff stood in place of the security guard into the night.
This is reportedly the third time Whole Woman's Health has had to shutter operations due to laws in the last decade. "It's a place I think we find ourselves in here in Texas often. And you would think that we would get used to it, but, I don't know that you can ever get used to people being so mean," Sadler said. "I'm tired, there is no doubt about that. I'm not sure how I'm getting my body to move, but I do know this: I do know that even though this is horrible and I don't have the best answers to give my patients, I am still -- my staff, my team, the wonderful abortion care workers in this state are still the best people to help these women navigate the hardest decisions of their lives."
"And we can't give up because Texas kind of beats us up, because a woman is still going to get pregnant and not want to be pregnant today," she said. "So it hurts. It's hard, it's heavy, it seems impossible many times, but if not us, then who? We won't give up, we have their back, and we're going to continue to do everything we can to support them in their time of need."