How a Planned Parenthood in El Paso is dealing with the Texas abortion ban

Miranda Aguirre, a Latina born and raised in the border community of El Paso, Texas, has dedicated her life to giving back to her hometown. Aguirre runs the only Planned Parenthood in the city, providing reproductive health resources to anyone who walks in through the front door. In the last five months, her staff, the majority of whom are Latina, have been helping women seeking abortions find care, since Texas implemented an abortion law known as Senate Bill 8 (or S.B. 8).

The new law is considered by many to be the most restrictive in the country. It bans abortions at the point at which an ultrasound can detect a fetal “heartbeat,” which is usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. However, many women don’t know they are pregnant within the first few weeks.

The challenges Aguirre and her colleagues face give a window into the future of much of the country if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, 49 years after it was decided, and removes the constitutional right to an abortion. The court’s conservative majority appears likely to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while legal challenges to the law in Texas have not yet reached the court.

“We all felt defeated. We knew that this basic right, that any person should have, is being limited. And in that, there's also the frustration of having somebody else tell you what you can and cannot do with your life,” she said.

Aguirre said clinics like Planned Parenthood are crucial for communities of color. Her clinic is often the main health care center for uninsured, low-income or immigrant Latinas.

“Leaving El Paso, any which way you go, there's a Border Patrol checkpoint. So that's an added pressure on a lot of patients, because they're like, ‘Do I try to terminate this pregnancy, to potentially put myself at risk for deportation?’” she added.

Since the law took effect in September 2021, Aguirre said, any patients who are more than six weeks pregnant have to travel hours away in order to access abortion care, but for many that’s impossible. The clinic is providing gas cards, funding for food and hotel stays for women to travel to their nearest Planned Parenthood in New Mexico.

“From El Paso to Albuquerque, it's still a four-hour drive,” Aguirre said. “The other obstacle is getting the soonest appointment.”

Five women stand outside a Planned Parenthood center behind a sign reading: El Paso Planned Parenthood welcomes all here.
Staff at the Planned Parenthood health center in El Paso, Texas. (Planned Parenthood El Paso Health Center)

As for noncitizens living in El Paso, she said many of her patients do not have the choice to leave the city. She fears people will be faced with either going through a forced pregnancy or getting an illegal abortion that could come with other risks.

Aguirre’s clinic provides services to Mexican residents living on the other side of the border, in Juarez. If those patients can’t receive abortion care in El Paso, they will not be able to travel out of the state for it like others, due to their immigration status. “We have patients that come to us from Juarez, Mexico — because abortion is still illegal in the city of Juarez, our sister city, and they're coming to us. And they're like, 'If you cannot see us, we have no other option,'” Aguirre told Yahoo News. Juarez is just across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso.

Data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission shows that abortions in the state fell by 60 percent in the first month since S.B. 8 took effect. In the same month, Planned Parenthood health centers in surrounding states saw a 1,082 percent increase in patients with Texas ZIP codes.

Miranda Aguirre, wearing a T-shirt that reads, in English and Spanish: Our future, our choice.
Miranda Aguirre, health center manager for Planned Parenthood in El Paso. (Planned Parenthood El Paso Health Center)

Aguirre said that prior to the state law's implementation, several Planned Parenthood clinics in the surrounding states were preparing to accept the high volume of patients that Texas was not going to be able to take in.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has defended the law, which does not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest, saying it does not force victims to give birth even though it prohibits abortions before some women know they’re pregnant. During the governor’s first press conference since the law took effect on Sept. 8, 2021, Abbott said his state would “eliminate all rapists from the streets.”

For Aguirre, it has been painful to have to deny women their access to safe abortions.

“We had a patient who ... knew that she was probably past the six weeks, based off of her last menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, there was cardiac activity on the ultrasound, and she needed that confirmation so that she could also know what she needed to do moving forward. It was a pregnancy she did not want to keep. And unfortunately, her partner was not aware of it, because if he became aware that she was pregnant, he would force her to keep the pregnancy,” Aguirre said.

“Abortions are essential. Abortion access is essential. There is no stigma to getting an abortion,” she added.