Dr. Sherwood Lynn, an obstetrician gynecologist, has provided abortion care in Texas for four decades. Recently, however, it's become much harder for him to perform this procedure. A 2013 law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and despite his experience, Lynn has been denied access to applications for admitting privileges in the Rio Grande Valley and other cities in Texas. Last month, a federal appeals court upheld the requirement, saying it would improve the quality of care for women who must be hospitalized after an abortion. Lynn disagrees, arguing that the restrictions actually jeopardize women's health. He's now retired, but because he's committed to providing these services, he travels 200 miles from Houston to San Antonio every week to work at the Whole Woman's Health clinic. Here, he provides a firsthand look at the danger faced by Texas women.
My first hysterectomy as a resident was on a 16-year-old who had an illegal abortion. Her pelvis was nothing but pus. That's the sort of thing we saw all the time. I admitted about two or three women like this every night. That's what we're headed towards now. We're heading back to those days. Because of the restrictions lawmakers impose, women will seek abortions illegally, and we're going to see a rise in septic abortions.
Many practicing OB/GYNs don't provide abortion services because of the harassment by anti-abortion protesters. It's crazy. It's madness. One of my friends was forced to leave his practice and moved to Florida because of the harassment. The protesters don't impede me, but they do shame the women who need my services. That's the whole point — to shame them out of doing what's right for themselves. And it all stems from ignorance. They have been brainwashed to think it's immoral, and they're not looking at any other issues. Women who have multiple fetal anomalies, even lethal anomalies, are being shamed by these people. Why should a woman carry a fetus to term that's going to die?
There are many sets of laws here in Texas that restrict access to abortion services. The ultrasound requirement and state mandated information [women must get an ultrasound and listen to a description of the fetus] are nothing but scare tactics. Most of the women whose pregnancies I've terminated already have kids. They know what pregnancy is. They know it's a fetus, so it's ridiculous to force them to have an ultrasound. They don't have to be shamed. The waiting periods are also an unnecessary burden. After their initial appointment they have to go home and wait [24 hours], and in Texas, many women have to drive long distances.
The admitting-privileges requirements are also absolutely unnecessary. If you have a number of patients waiting for procedures, and something happens and a patient needs to be transferred to a hospital, you're not going to leave everyone else and go to the hospital. That makes no sense. You're going to refer that person to a gynecologist at the hospital. There is no safety issue involved here. If a patient shows up with an emergency, every hospital is required to admit that patient. They have to by law. And the new surgical center requirement [starting in September, all abortions must be performed in ambulatory surgical centers] doesn't make any sense either. Why would we need a surgical center for a procedure that is overwhelmingly safe? It's as safe as getting a tooth drilled.
Gaining admitting privileges has been difficult for me. First, you have to call the hospital and ask for an application. Then they send it to you, and you fill it out and send back. It seems simple enough, but if the address of the practice on the application is of an abortion provider or clinic, they won't send you the package of materials required. You just can't apply. I have one application pending in Austin, and I've been denied applications in McAllen and Beaumont. Whole Woman's Health followed up to find out why, but we only got a letter from McAllen without any explanation. [There was no response from Beaumont.] There is no one in the Valley who has privileges who provides abortion care. The hospitals in McAllen are not necessarily Catholic institutions, but the board members are. I do have privileges at one of the hospitals in San Antonio, however, which is how I can continue to provide services at the Whole Woman's Health surgical ambulatory center.
A lot of women are going to Mexico and getting cytotec [abortion pills]. We've seen a number of women who come in bleeding. They end up coming all the way to San Antonio. One woman showed up on Friday and said she needed to make an appointment for an abortion procedure. Her kids were staying with her sick and elderly mother, and her husband took a day off work to drive her. She and her husband left on 4 a.m. to come to San Antonio. She cleans houses and couldn't work Friday or Saturday. I said to her, "You did all you could do, and I will do the rest." But she is somebody who would have gone across the border if they couldn't take time off work. She and her husband are both losing money in this situation. If she doesn't clean houses, she doesn't get paid. And there are lots and lots of women in that situation. School teachers, for example, just can't miss work, so we see them here in the evenings. No matter what, they're going to get it done. We stay open late to accommodate women traveling long distances. We are one of the only clinics open seven days a week, and we have even stayed open until midnight.
We're one of the states who declined Medicaid expansion and defunded Planned Parenthood. If more clinics shut down in September, there are only going to be six clinics left in Texas. In order to change this, we're going to have to get the Democratic electorate out to vote. We're going to have to reverse restrictions on voting rights. Lawmakers are catering to a group of crazies. There is no regard for science or for women.
Photo credit: AP