An El Paso woman was startled to learn that her hospital was displaying an emergency room sign that includes the phone number of a Texas anti-abortion group.

Texas law mandates hospitals display signs with information about human trafficking and forced abortion, including a toll-free number to a related organization.

Ophra Leyser-Whalen saw that Hospitals of Providence – Sierra Campus in El Paso included the name and phone number for The Justice Foundation, a Christian conservative legal organization based in San Antonio, on its posters. The sign also lists the phone number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Leyser-Whalen, a medical sociologist at the University of Texas at El Paso, first noticed the sign in an emergency room at the hospital on May 11 when she was a patient there. She later shared a photo of it with El Paso Matters. She said she felt bothered that a health care facility seemed to be “advertising” a nonprofit that promotes curtailing reproductive health care.

This human trafficking notice is posted in the Emergency Department at the Hospitals of Providence – Sierra Campus. The sign, required by Texas Health and Safety Code, raised concerns for including the number to Texas anti-abortion group. Hospital officials say they plan to replace the signs after El Paso Matters inquired about it.

The Hospitals of Providence is in the process of updating its signs, a spokesperson wrote in a Aug. 3 email following an El Paso Matters inquiry. The hospital group did not provide further details and did not answer why it posted signs containing the contact information for the organization. It’s also unclear who produced or approved the signs and whether all Providence campuses displayed the same posters.

As of September 2017, Texas Health and Safety Code requires the emergency department of a hospital to display human trafficking awareness signs like those that abortion clinics are required to post. Hospitals and abortion facilities must display signs in English and Spanish that state it is illegal to force someone to engage in sexual acts and “no person, including an individual’s parents, may force any individual to have an abortion.”

El Paso Matters reached out to other hospitals, including University Medical Center of El Paso and Las Palmas Del Sol Healthcare. Both health care providers display signs in their emergency departments featuring the toll-free number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Neither include information for anti-abortion, political or religious organizations.

University Medical Center of El Paso displays this human trafficking notice in its Emergency Department as required by the Texas Health and Safety Code.

Who is The Justice Foundation?

The Justice Foundation offers free legal services to defend its political interests, which the organization describes online as “limited government, free markets, religious liberty.” It also operates an anti-abortion ministry. 

The nonprofit’s president, attorney Allan E. Parker, Jr., was lead counsel for Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” in Roe v. Wade, when she tried to overturn her landmark case – though McCorvey later claimed evangelical Christians paid her to become an anti-abortion activist.

Tracy Reynolds, a spokesperson for The Justice Foundation, said the nonprofit provides free training to stop coerced abortions.

“We also have worked with sex trafficking organizations to support them and assure them that even after Roe V. Wade has been reversed, it is still unlawful to force any woman to have an abortion against her will, whether it is legal or illegal in that particular state,” she wrote in an email.

Leyser-Whalen, who researches reproductive health and supports abortion rights, said the state’s health code has a misleading rhetoric. It victimizes abortion seekers and sends a message that people would only want to end their pregnancy because of coercion, she said. 

This human trafficking notice is posted in the Emergency Department of Las Palmas Del Sol as required by the Texas Health and Safety Code.

“We are forcing people to be pregnant but I don’t know if they are going to have signs about forced pregnancy,” Leyser-Whalen said. “It is just obvious it’s coming from an anti-aboriton perspective. Why are we forcing health care institutions to post this stuff?”

In practice, a human trafficking survivor would not be able to have an abortion in El Paso, even if the desire was by choice. Texas law criminalizes health care providers for providing abortions and the state has outlawed most abortions since Sept. 1, 2021, when Senate Bill 8 went into effect.

The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned Roe v. Wade, the historic ruling that granted people the right to abortion. The overturn cleared the way for the Texas trigger law to ban all abortions unless the patient’s life is at risk. The law also increases penalties for those performing an abortion. The trigger law goes into effect Aug. 25.

Priscilla Totiyapungprasert is a health reporter at El Paso Matters and Report for America corp member. She previously covered food and environment at The Arizona Republic. You can follow her on social...