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Remembering the bad old days

We’re headed back to them if the courts don’t intervene.

Dr. Howard Novick winces as he recalls treating two and three women a week for infections and complications from botched abortions. It was the early 1970s, before the procedure was legalized, and the experience persuaded him to devote his life to this area of medicine.

Now, more than 40 years later, new abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature could force Novick to close the Houston abortion clinic he opened in 1980 because, he says, he does not have $1 million to $1.5 million to convert his run-of-the-mill medical office into a fully loaded surgical center with wide corridors and sophisticated air-flow systems.

“I have saved some women’s lives. They are so grateful we’re here for them and nonjudgmental,” Novick said. “I really feel a kinship for this.”

The legislation, passed late Friday following weeks of mass protests and a high-profile filibuster, allows abortions only in surgical centers, requires doctors who perform them to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, dictates when abortion pills are taken and bans abortions after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is in imminent danger.

Abortion-rights advocates argue the costs associated with converting clinics into surgical centers are so high they will force more than 35 clinics to close, possibly leaving only a handful of facilities across the vast state. In rural areas such as the farthest reaches of West Texas or the Rio Grande Valley, that could put the closest facility 300 or more miles away.

The law could also create a backlog so great in the remaining clinics that women seeking abortions will miss the 20-week deadline, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, a company that runs five clinics in Texas.

Abortion opponents insist, however, that the new rules are designed to guarantee the best health care.

“All we’re asking for is better surgical care for women seeking these procedures,” said Christine Melchor, executive director of the Houston Coalition for Life.


Novick says the law is medically unnecessary. The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology agree.

“It’s been years and years since we had to send someone to a hospital,” Novick said of his clinic.

This has never been about safety, or women’s health. The unanimous opposition from doctors’ groups speaks to that, not that it had any influence over the Republicans. Remember, a big part of the strategy all along has been about delaying access to abortion as much as denying access to it. Waiting periods, sonograms, requiring multiple office visits, now requiring a doctor to dispense abortifacient drugs, it’s all about making it increasingly difficult to get an abortion early on, when it is the least invasive and thus the least medically risky. And of course, carrying a child to term and giving birth is far more medically risky than an abortion at one of Texas’ existing clinics.

Texans should be made aware of the state’s grimmest medical statistic: women are more likely to die from childbirth than from an abortion. That’s according to a study published in the February 2012 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology Medical Journal. The study, conducted by Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, found that nationally the risk of death associated with a full-term pregnancy and delivery is 8.8 deaths per 100,000, while the risk of death linked to legal abortion is 0.6 deaths per 100,000 women. That means a woman carrying a baby to term is 14 times more likely to die than a woman who chooses to have a legal abortion.

In Texas, the statistics are worse. In 2011 Texas women died in childbirth at a rate of 24.63 per 100,000. “It’s alarming,” said Dr. Donald Dudley, Obstetrician & Gynecologist at the UTHSC San Antonio.

Texas should be seeing only about 5 deaths per 100,000 said Dudley, and the present rate is comparable to a developing nation.

Childbirth morbidity is seen as the most sensitive indicator of the general health of a population, especially in urban conditions.

In the last legislative session, two bills were passed and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry, forming a Texas Childhood Morbidity Task Force and creating levels of care designations for hospitals that provide neonatal and maternal services.

The task force will look for answers as to why giving birth in Texas is so deadly. Researchers say they already know: lack of prenatal care; women giving birth later in life; obesity; diabetes, and lack of access to quality lifelong health care. The task force will gather the data to back those observations up.

The goal of HB2 is to force more women to give birth. State Sen. Dan Patrick, who I remind you is running for Lt. Governor, is quite explicit in his desire to end all abortions in Texas. It’s about the health and safety of the mothers, you see. What have he and his colleagues done to improve the health and safety of women who do give birth in Texas? Not a damn thing, and though their refusal to expand Medicaid they have actively worked to make it worse. Patrick and his cronies can say they care about women’s health all they want. Their actions speak very clearly otherwise.

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  1. Ross says:

    Lawmaking like this is going to end up with me not being able to vote for most candidates. I can’t vote for most Democrats, given their lack of support for basic civil rights, and their naive assumption that every last problem has to be solved, and can only be solved through government intervention. The Republicans keep pushing stupid loser social issues like this, and become more self righteous with every passing minute. What happened to the middle ground?

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