Last week, an appeals court lifted an injunction on Texas’ exceedingly restrictive abortion law, which forces abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This requirement—which went into effect when the injunction was lifted Friday—may close a third of the state’s clinics, according to research carried out by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. Yesterday, attorneys for providers asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the injunction. I spoke with Merritt Tierce, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund in North Texas about the law, how Texas women are faring and what we can all do to help.
Can you explain a bit about what TEA Fund does, for our readers who may not be familiar with abortion access funds?
TEA Fund provides financial assistance to low-income women who want an abortion and can’t afford it. Our clients are usually referred to us by one of the clinics we work with—I used to say one of the “dozen or so” clinics we work with, but now it’s basically down to three, plus one in New Mexico and one in Louisiana. Our volunteers conduct a brief intake interview to assess the caller’s need and situation. If the caller meets our eligibility requirements, we will commit an amount between $25 and $400. We never cover more than half the cost of the procedure, and our average grant right now is about $150. The money is paid to the clinic after the procedure is performed (we’re billed just like any other vendor). We are a small 501 (c) (3) nonprofit with an annual budget of about $200,000. We are usually able to help about 1,000 women annually, but have never been able to meet the need. We could easily commit $10,000 each week, and right now we commit only $3500.
Late last week an appeals court upheld a Texas law that widely restricts abortion access—one third of the state’s clinics could close as a result. How prepared was the TEA Fund and other reproductive justice organizations? Have you been girding yourself for this kind of loss?
We have all been preparing for the law to go into effect since the end of July. Clinics have been working overtime to try to get [hospital admitting] privileges for their physicians. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project has done phenomenal work compiling the data to predict the impact the closures would have on the state. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Whole Woman’s Health, and Planned Parenthood have been coaching all of us to remember this is a long game. The fury and momentum we all felt coming out of this summer has to be sustained, and converted into concrete actions and votes.
Several new organizations have been created since the 2013 legislative session ended, and we are working with the new groups and our longtime allies the Lilith Fund [a reproductive equity group that assists women exercise their right to abortion] and Jane’s Due Process [a nonprofit that provides legal representation to pregnant minors] to ensure that we support one another’s efforts as efficiently as possible. We have also all increased our fundraising, knowing that not only would we be facing calls from more people, but that each person who needs financial assistance would need more after the law went into effect.