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The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday morning overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the landmark rulings that had enshrined abortion rights for nearly half a century.
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” the opinion read.
By ending federal protections for abortion rights, the 6-to-3 ruling triggers a ban on nearly all abortions in Texas. Twelve other states have similar laws that would trigger abortion bans.
In El Paso, this means that the local Planned Parenthood, the city’s sole abortion provider which only recently resumed medication abortions after a long pause during the pandemic, will no longer offer the procedure. Planned Parenthood has paused all abortion services at its Texas clinics, and began turning abortion-seekers away from clinics early Friday.
“We have all independently reached the same conclusions: that we must pause abortion services at our separate organizations while our legal teams continue to review today’s devastating ruling and how it impacts and triggers existing Texas laws,” Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Texas, said at a Friday afternoon press conference.
The El Paso clinic will still provide a range of other reproductive health services, Autumn Keiser, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said ahead of the court’s ruling.
“Access to affordable, reliable birth control will never be more important, along with emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, and other reproductive healthcare,” Keiser wrote in an email.
Even before Friday’s ruling, El Pasoans have long faced limited and inconsistent access to abortion services. But the city is uniquely located along state and international borders where laws change once lines are crossed.
El Paso could serve as a model for those in other parts of the country who will face limited abortion access as a result of Friday’s ruling, said Lina-Maria Murillo, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa who researches abortion access on the border.
“El Paso has been at the front lines of non-existent care for so long. They’ve been literally and figuratively at the borderlands of access to care since the pandemic,” Murillo said. “Folks are going to want to know how people in El Paso have been addressing the dearth of care.”
Some El Pasoans seeking abortions have turned to neighboring New Mexico, a state with few abortion restrictions and no trigger ban in place. Medications to end early pregnancies are available at clinics and through telehealth services throughout the state.
The closest clinics to offer surgical abortions, however, are more than 200 miles away in Albuquerque, on routes dotted with U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints — what can be an insurmountable hurdle for people who are undocumented. Surgical abortions can be necessary at later stages of pregnancy and for other medical reasons.
And while the state’s laws may protect abortion rights, the southern part of New Mexico has struggled with lack of “real access” to abortion services, Charlene Bencomo with Bold Futures, a nonprofit advocacy group, told the NM Political Report in May.
Some have also chosen to self-manage abortions outside of health care settings — an option that grows more common as obstacles to in-clinic abortion access mount. Abortion-inducing medications are sold over the counter in Ciudad Juárez as ulcer treatments.
Texas law to make performing abortions a felony
Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a so-called “trigger law” that would outlaw abortions in Texas within 30 days of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
The law, Texas House Bill 1280, makes it a second-degree felony for someone to perform an abortion and increases that penalty to a first-degree felony “if the unborn child dies as a result of the offense.” It makes no exceptions for rape or incest. It would allow abortions only when a pregnant patient’s life or a “substantial impairment of major bodily function” is at risk.
While anyone having an abortion would not face legal penalties, the doctor performing the procedure could be fined at least $100,000 per offense, and could face life in prison.
“We all believe that this pause in abortion care, while heartbreaking, is the best way to protect our staff and patients and ensure that we remain strong, viable organizations providing health care in the years to come,” Hons said of Planned Parenthood’s decision to halt this service at its Texas clinics.
On Friday, an advisory from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton clarified that HB 1280’s 30-day countdown will not begin in Texas until the Supreme Court issues an official judgment — a document distinct from the court’s June 24 opinion — overturning Roe. “So while it is clear that the Act will take effect, we cannot calculate exactly when until the Court issues its judgment,” the advisory said.
But the advisory, which is not legally binding, claimed that Texas laws pre-dating the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision could allow state prosecutors to begin prosecuting abortions almost immediately. “Abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today,” it read.
A spokesperson for El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’ office has not responded to a request for comment as to whether she plans to pursue abortion-related criminal charges. In anticipation of Friday’s ruling, district attorneys from some of the state’s largest counties publicly promised not to do so.
In a statement after Friday’s ruling, Abbott celebrated the decision.
“The U.S. Supreme Court correctly overturned Roe v. Wade and reinstated the right of states to protect innocent, unborn children. Texas is a pro-life state, and we have taken significant action to protect the sanctity of life,” Abbott said.
El Paso’s congresswoman decried the move. “It is a dark day in America when a Supreme Court ruling ensures the generations that follow ours will have fewer rights than we enjoy now,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said in a statement.
In a later press conference, she added: “I can tell you with an absolute guarantee that as a result of today’s ruling, women will die.”
Much of the country had braced for an end to Roe v. Wade since May 3, when a leaked draft majority opinion signaled the high court’s intent to strike down the landmark decision that has provided federal protection of abortion rights for nearly 50 years.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade case was decided with a 7-2 majority, which included five Republican-nominated justices. The decision was based on a right to privacy ensured by the due process clause in the 14th Amendment.
On Friday, the court’s six conservative justices ruled to overturn the court’s previous decision.
“Roe was also egregiously wrong and on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court majority.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — who were all appointed by Democratic presidents — dissented, writing in the minority opinion, “After today, young women will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had.”