Kathaleen Pittman, director of Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La., is relishing what feels like a moment of quiet, despite the drilling outside her office. On this Friday afternoon in mid-March, workers are replacing some of the abortion clinic’s phones, leaving hers briefly disconnected. Since Texas implemented a near-total ban on abortions last fall, the lines have been flooded with calls. “Our phones are literally worn out,” Pittman says.
Before Texas’s ban, she tells me, patients could call Hope Medical and get an appointment the same week for the state-mandated first consultation, and often come back the next day for the procedure. Now, it’s typically a two-week wait just for a call back to schedule a first visit, and a couple more weeks before patients can have an abortion. Pittman showed me a red clipboard with the waiting list of people who have called in the past 10 days. The stack of pages with names; phone numbers; how far along they are in pregnancy, if known; age and parents’ contact information, if they are a minor, is an inch thick.
This spring, I drove to clinics in Louisiana and Arkansas, tracing paths that many of the thousands of Texans who have left the state for an abortion in recent months have traveled and speaking to patients about the obstacles they have faced along the way. The abortion clinic in Shreveport, a 5½-hour drive, is the closest to my home in Central Texas that still offers abortions past about six weeks, which is before most people even know they’re pregnant. Little Rock — home to the two abortion clinics in Arkansas — is an eight-hour drive one way. Both states require two in-person visits, 24 and 72 hours apart, respectively, which means many patients must make the journey twice.
The stories that follow are snapshots from this moment. Texas women shared them with me in interviews inside the clinic during first consultation visits in Shreveport, in a car on the way to the clinic for a procedure in Little Rock, over the phone after finally having an abortion following weeks or months of waiting.
They’re also a glimpse into what will likely be a far more common and widespread reality very soon. If a similar version of the draft opinion leaked in early May holds, and the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade as expected, access to legal abortion would disappear in much of the Midwest and across the South, from Texas to the eastern edge of the United States. About half of states would likely ban abortion in the ruling’s wake; Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and 10 other states, have “trigger” laws that would ban the procedure almost immediately. As a result, more patients would end up traveling farther and waiting longer. These stories explore what that means — for mental health, for family, for work, for daily life in innumerous, interconnected ways. These are patients’ experiences, in their own words. Some women requested partial anonymity to protect their privacy. In the case of the woman who requested full anonymity, her OB/GYN, Crystal Berry-Roberts, who does not perform elective abortions but treated the woman after her procedure, confirmed her story.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
I found out I was pregnant when I was about five weeks, and it was around six weeks when I started calling and calling. By the time I got [scheduled], they told me I was too far [along] to get the appointment in Texas at all. I got put on a waiting list here [at Hope Medical Group in Shreveport]. It took longer than two weeks. I had to wait and look for the area code to call me. You can’t miss this call.
I’m 12½ or 13 weeks. The GPS told me I was going to run into a crash, and I was going to get here late. I start panicking, trying to call while I’m driving to the clinic. You feel like all your decisions are just based on this law that put you in this time crunch. It’s painful because it’s already a hard choice. Knowing the baby is growing, being forced to keep pushing it along, and going through all these obstacles — it’s a little traumatizing.
I have five kids. My youngest is 4. Since I had her, I’ve been going through a custody case. I’m just trying to not make any more decisions, especially something financially, that’s going to hurt them.
I had an abortion about three years ago. But it was different because I didn’t have to be forced to get attached to the baby. I was able to make a decision and have it done. It wasn’t like being backed into a corner, feeling nervous and scared every day.
It’s affected my time with my kids. I can’t explain it to them, but they know something is going on. At times I think they’re scared that I’m sick or something. I keep making up all these excuses why I don’t have the energy or don’t eat with them, because I feel so nauseous. Going through the longer process and being depressed at times, ’cause you got to think about it for longer and longer — just trying to hide all of that from everybody who I care about, so they don’t take on those feelings. Especially my kids.
I found out that I was pregnant in the beginning of February. I knew [an abortion] was going to be expensive, that I was going to have to jump through all these hoops and hurdles. I was worried, you know: Am I going to get in trouble because of this abortion law? Am I going to get sued?
I was on a wait list [at Hope Medical Group] for like two weeks, and they finally set my appointment for March 4th. We drove four hours, booked a hotel. Friday morning, I had my consultation appointment. Then they tell me that I have to come back for the surgery. So we had to drive four hours back home, wait till the next Saturday to drive all the way back. It was a little hectic and stressful.
Thankfully, I’d just gotten my tax returns, so we were able to take care of everything financially. It was at least $1,000. If we hadn’t gotten our taxes, or if this was a later time in the year, we may not have even been able to do this. I don’t have health insurance. I couldn’t go to a real OB/GYN. Our Planned Parenthood is actually shut down. [My hometown] has one of those [crisis pregnancy centers] where you walk in and they try to tell you that abortion is bad, you know, God made this choice for you, and all that stuff. But they were able to give me an ultrasound and tell me how far along I was before we went all the way to Louisiana.
I was waking up every morning throwing up, couldn’t really eat, just dealing with all this stuff, while trying to take care of my [3-year-old son]. I dreaded every day, just waiting for that phone call [to get off the wait list]. It was awful. Like, please call me, please call me. Because the longer I wait, every day that goes by, I lose another day of my chance of getting an abortion.
I heard about the abortion ban in September, and I really didn’t think it would affect me. But here I am now in Arkansas.
When I had my fifth child, I had just moved down to Texas. After I had my son in July, I found out I was pregnant in December. Me and my husband had been going through a rough patch. I already knew I didn’t want to carry the baby to term. I was scheduled to [have the abortion] in Oklahoma. My initial visit was supposed to be February 3rd. I didn’t have the money, so I rescheduled it for February 18th. Then my husband ended up going to jail, because he violated his probation. I ended up rescheduling [again] in Little Rock because Oklahoma had been so backed up at the time. It was like a two-hour wait on the phone; the calls weren’t going through.
I called [a Texas abortion fund] and they were so helpful. It was such a relief to know that I could bring my daughter and my son with me, that [the fund] would be able to get me here to my appointment, I would have somewhere to stay. Because I wouldn’t be able to pay for the abortion and then pay for the travel, pay for the lodging.
My daughter is 12, so she really doesn’t know why she’s here. I just told her I was going to a doctor appointment. I had [her] when I was 15. And now I’m at this point, after five kids, in my late 20s, oh, now I want to have an abortion. I feel like, how dare you get to this point, go through all these obstacles in life, and now you want to do this. But I feel like this is exactly why I’m doing this, because I know now, I can consciously make this decision.
I became pregnant, and the decision of what my partner and I wanted to do wasn’t extremely clear in the beginning. As time progressed, the relationship between myself and this person became really toxic and stressful. I feel like I kind of had hung in there for so long because I didn’t really want to have to explore the option of going out of state. It was extremely expensive. But it just got to a point where I didn’t want to be in a situation because the decision was made for me.
I was in my second trimester, and I had to travel out of state [to Florida, where abortion up to 24 weeks is legal] and get a very expensive, emotionally, mentally and physically draining procedure. By the time I made the decision, the procedure itself was around $1,800. I had to get a round-trip flight within a matter of a week, because I was treading in very dangerous waters with how far along I was, and I was going to be at the cutoff. The flight was probably [$500] or $600. It’s, at that stage, a two-day procedure. So at minimum, you’re paying for a two- to three-night hotel stay. And both of my children have school, so I had to pay for them to be watched for the entire time that I was going. I’m still catching up on bills.
There’s laws that are changing every day. [In mid-April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill to take effect in July that will ban abortion at 15 weeks.] It creates a fear of never wanting to ever be in this situation again. It begins to affect your relationships. It makes me look at myself differently, like, am I a bad person?
I feel like had I had [abortion access] where I live, it wouldn’t have taken me as long to make the decision because I would have known that it was here, and I have the resources to do it, and I don’t have to go out of state, and I don’t have to leave my kids. It was a very tough thing to have to go through. It’s not an experience that I’ve even been able to share or discuss with close family or friends or anyone yet.
Today marks my 15 weeks. I would have already had it done, but I went to a different clinic first. They scheduled my [second] appointment for March 15. I went out there, and they wouldn’t see me. It just started to make me feel hopeless, like the world just wants me to have a kid right now. I was already on the wait list here [at Hope Medical Group]. I told [the woman on the phone] everything that happened, and she was like, you can come in.
I live alone. My rent is as much as this abortion costs. I just paid my rent, so I really don’t have [the money for the abortion]. At first I wasn’t as far along, so the price was different. But as you get farther along, the price goes up. So I wouldn’t have been able to afford it at all [without help from a Louisiana abortion fund].
I was working like three jobs. I’m just learning how to start taking care of myself, and I’m struggling doing that sometimes. I don’t drive; I don’t even have a license. So it’s hard, you know? I have been through a lot mentally since finding out that I was pregnant. I’ve dealt with, like, contemplating suicide, just having to deal with so much stress while going through this.
[About two weeks later, Cyndy spoke about how her procedure had gone and how she was feeling.]
[On the day of my second appointment] we started [driving] at like 4 o’clock that morning. We didn’t get back until like 11 o’clock at night. It was a long day. I just went to work the next day, because, regardless of whatever I just went through, I know that I still have to take care of myself.
I still have built-up frustrations behind the whole entire situation and just about everything that I had to go through. But I’m okay. I’m not suicidal. I’m not, like, regretting everything. Even going to church on Sunday, I feel — it isn’t shame. It isn’t guilt or anything like that. I can’t think of the word. It’s like when you know that you’re responsible for something and you have to take care of it. Conviction, that’s the word.
Sophie Novack is a Texas-based reporter and editor who covers health-care access.