AUSTIN — Bev Kline, executive director of Living Alternatives, has helped thousands of women through unplanned pregnancies or with post-abortion problems for more than three decades.
Laws upheld Thursday, including those requiring abortion clinics to meet safety standards of ambulatory centers helps protect womens' physical well being, Ms. Kline said, but she remains concerned about abortion's long-term damage.
A law that imposes some of the nation's strictest limitations on the procedure, which was overwhelmingly approved last summer by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, has helped force numerous clinics to close.
A lower court judge initially ruled that parts of the law were unconstitutional and served no medical purpose, but the 5th Circuit allowed some regulations to remain in effect while it mulled the appeal. On Thursday, the appeals court ruled that the law "on its face does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman."
The case, however, will likely end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ms. Kline said she believes abortion is physically, emotionally and psychologically contradictory to the female body and therefore harmful.
In 32 years, Ms. Kline said she'd never heard a woman express regret for continuing a pregnancy, but she's heard countless stories of heartbreak over the decision to abort.
"Every woman knows in her heart that it's not just pregnancy tissue," she said. "If they choose to end that pregnancy, they have to reconcile that within their own psyche."
Dr. Lester Minto knows he won't be able to reopen his clinic after a federal appeals court upheld the restrictions, but he insists he won't be silenced.
Minto has been providing abortions for three decades, but he closed his clinic near the Mexico border earlier this month because of a law that imposes some of the nation's strictest limitations on the procedure.
"I'm not down and out," Minto said Thursday, shortly after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. "I just can't fight in the open."
Restrictions already in effect require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and place strict limits on physicians prescribing abortion-inducing pills. But other facets of the omnibus law won't take effect until this fall, meaning some of the 24 abortion clinics still open in Texas — a state of 26 million people — also could close.
So far, the regulations have helped force at least 19 clinics to close statewide, including Minto's in Harlingen.
But the doctor has kept his clinic's phone line active. He said a recent check found messages from five women, including a 12-year-old girl who he said had been raped traveling through Mexico and illegally crossed into the U.S.
"So she can't go up north," he said, referring to the nearest still-open clinics in Corpus Christi and San Antonio that would require passing through inland Border Patrol highway checkpoints. "She's forced to carry this pregnancy because of these laws."
The calls will continue, he assumes. And he plans to help callers as much as he can.
"I'll tell them the truth, where they can get what they need, how they get it," Minto said, adding that he tells patients to go to reputable Mexican pharmacies for abortion-inducing drugs and not flea markets.
"If I was pushing for gun rights, I'd be a hero," Minto added, referencing Texas' deep love for firearms. "But pushing for women's rights, they're afraid to deal with you."
Physician Grace English said abortion providers operate under the flag of helping women but said abortions contradict doctors' "do no harm" oaths.
"It's a common-sense law to make sure doctors are competent and that they have the ability to take care of a situation if there are complications," she said. "It's a double standard if you don't hold them to the same standard."
Dr. English said the laws are a good start, but education about options will do more to protect women's mental and physical health. She said unplanned pregnancies are a stressful situation and said she believes many women feel abortion is the only option. What abortion providers don't tell them is that they may face emotional scars for decades, she said.
"That's because they're doing it for money," she said. "It's not about the woman's health. It's about the money."
Planned Parenthood had filed the lawsuit seeking to block part of the law. On Thursday, the organization said the appeals court ruling meant that "safe and legal abortion will continue to be virtually impossible for thousands of Texas women to access."
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican running for governor whose office defended the law in court, cheered Thursday's ruling from the panel of 5th Circuit judges.
"This unanimous decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women," Abbott said.
In passing the restrictions, state lawmakers argued they were protecting women's health. But critics called the measures an attempt to effectively ban abortion in Texas through overregulation. Law opponents argued that many abortion doctors didn't have admitting privileges and that limiting when and where they could prescribe abortion-inducing pills would discourage women from choosing that option.
Other aspects of the new rules, including a requirement that all procedures take place in a surgical facility, are set to begin in September. Those elements also may be challenged in court.
The U.S. Supreme Court's four liberal justices already have indicated they are inclined to hear an appeal of the case. In November, the four dissented from the high court ruling that upheld the 5th Circuit's decision to allow Texas to enforce the law while the appeal was pending.
"It is a question, I believe, that at least four members of this court will wish to consider irrespective of the Fifth Circuit's ultimate decision," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a brief opinion that was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
Five votes constitute a majority on the high court, but it takes only four to grant full review of a lower court ruling.
In the meantime, Minto will keep answering the women calling his shuttered clinic's phone line.
"Somebody's got to help them," he said.
Sherman reported from McAllen.