The Texas Democratic Party sent out an email blast July 3 seeking signatures on a petition calling (ultimately without success) for hearings around the state on a legislative measure tightening restrictions on abortion in Texas.
Signed by party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, the letter said, “If this bill passes, someone living in El Paso would have to drive 550 miles each way to San Antonio for something as simple as cervical cancer screening at a clinic.”
The legislation, since approved by the Legislature, bans most abortions after 20 weeks and toughens standards for abortion clinics. Opponents have said a provision that clinics must upgrade to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers could lead 36 of 42 clinics that perform most Texas abortions to shut down because of higher costs.
When we contacted the Democratic Party about Hinojosa’s claim, spokeswoman Tanene Allison told us that although the chairman’s statement could be read as saying no El Paso facility would continue to provide such services, it was not intended that way.
Hinojosa “does recognize that there may be other clinics open for these screenings in El Paso,” Allison said.
“Our intention was to say that if you go to the clinics that are covered under HB 2, you would have to drive 550 miles to get some of the services that you normally get locally,” Allison said. “We certainly could have been clearer and will be in future emails.”
Still, we checked on conditions in El Paso for ourselves.
El Paso, a city with 672,538 residents as of 2012, is at Texas’ western edge, but it’s not isolated. It’s across the Rio Grande from the more than 1 million residents of Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez, and inside the U.S., it’s closer to Albuquerque, N.M. (population 555,417) and the nation’s sixth-largest city (Phoenix, population 1.5 million) than it is to San Antonio.
Two El Paso clinics could shutter if the measure becomes law, according to an El Paso Times news story. Reproductive Services of El Paso, near downtown, provides cancer screenings and other services, and Hill Top Women’s Reproductive Clinic solely offers abortions and pregnancy tests, according to the clinics’ websites.
So, if Reproductive Services were to shut down, would El Paso women have to drive 550 miles to get a test for cervical cancer?
“That’s unbelievable. That’s not possible. I don’t even know where to start,” said Adriana Valdes, co-director of outreach and case management at the Cancer and Chronic Disease Consortium, which manages El Paso clinics’ participation in the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program.
“There are a lot of organizations and institutions here that can provide access to those services,” Valdes told us.
Her organization subcontracts with 12 to 14 clinics and some private health care providers to help women get breast and cervical cancer screenings at low or no cost, Valdes said, and gives ongoing assistance to women diagnosed with cancer.
The clinics do not provide abortions, she said, and so would not be directly affected by the legislation, although it could mean more women would seek their “already overwhelmed” services.
Access to cervical cancer screenings in El Paso decreased when Planned Parenthood clinics in the city closed, we learned from Valdes and Theresa Byrd, a professor at Texas Tech University’s Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso.
According to the El Paso Times, all six Planned Parenthood clinics in El Paso closed in 2009 because of financial problems.
Byrd, who helped develop an intervention program being tested now in El Paso and other cities to increase the prevalence of cervical cancer screenings among Mexican-American women, told us that if the abortion measure became law, “the situation would stay about the same” in El Paso regarding cervical cancer screening.
That is, such tests would still be available. Byrd said, “In El Paso, is it easy to get service? No. You might have to wait, and it’s probably not as easy as it would be in other communities” such as Houston. “But can you get them? Yes.”
Our ruling: Hinojosa said that if the abortion legislation passed, an El Paso resident would have to make a 550-mile trip to San Antonio for simple services such as a cervical cancer screening.
That’s not so; such services will continue to be available in El Paso, local experts say. This statement misses the mark so badly, it’s ridiculous. Pants on Fire!
Statement: Says Texas abortion restrictions would mean that ‘someone living in El Paso would have to drive 550 miles each way to San Antonio for something as simple as cervical cancer screening at a clinic.’