By By Hannah Neumann
Expecting women in Waco seeking abortion will have to travel to other areas of Texas, as Planned Parenthood Waco relinquished its Texas abortion license Tuesday. The change comes after 20 years of operation.
Planned Parenthood Waco began abortion procedures in 1994 with abortions performed at its facility at 1917 Columbus Ave. The Columbus facility stopped operation in 2011 and abortions were moved to the clinic at 1121 Ross Ave., making this the only facility in Waco to offer the procedure. The rest of the clinic will remain open.
According to the website, Planned Parenthood aims to promote a commonsense approach to women’s health and well-being, based on respect for each individual’s right to make informed, independent decisions about health, sex
and family planning.
“Planned Parenthood has health centers that span from North Texas, down through Waco and Austin,” said Natalie Kelinske, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “So there are health centers in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin that still provide safe, legal abortions, and we will work with our patients to make sure that they get the care that they need.”
Kelinske said one of the ways they will do this is through their patient assistance fund.
“The fund is specifically for patients who now have to travel outside of their community because of the controversial law,” Kelinske said. “That fund provides things like travel and lodging assistant as well as contraception to help women plan and space future pregnancies and prevent unintended pregnancies.”
Kelinski said the fund relies on private donors who understand the importance of women having access to safe, legal medical care regardless of their zip code or income level.
“We are still fighting this every step of the way,” Kelinske said. “We will do everything we can to protect women’s access to safe, legal abortion and we are still open providing preventive care.”
Kelinske said the preventive care services include birth control, well-women exams, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and more.
“Ninety-five percent of our services at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas are preventive,” Kelinske said. “We are still here serving our patients and we have been in Waco for 75 years and we are very committed to this community and serving the women, men and families that count on us.”
In 2013, House Bill 2 was passed, restricting abortions in Texas for the mental and physical safety of its women, and the preservation of life for the unborn.
Sarah Wheat, the Vice President for community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said the reason for the clinic’s license relinquishment was due to their inability to meet one of the requirements of the bill. Wheat said the controversial restrictions are some of the most restrictive mandates in the country, with multiple components.
“One of those components is that physicians have to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the health center,” Wheat said. “So that part of the requirement is why the Planned Parenthood in Waco stopped providing abortion services.”
Wheat said because of the types of hospitals closest to the Planned Parenthood in Waco, it wasn’t possible for physicians to obtain those admitting privileges.
Texas Alliance for Life executive director Joe Pojman said after the passing of the bill, Planned Parenthood decided to stop providing abortions, rather than upgrading to meet new standards.
“The purpose of House Bill 2 is to assure that abortions are not done in a manner that puts the health of women at risk,” Pojman said. “The U.S Supreme Court prevents Texas and all the other states from banning most abortions, but it does allow states to ensure that abortions are not done in a manner that harms women.”
Pojman said Texas Alliance for Life is one of the organizations that contributed to creating the bill, getting it passed and defending it to the court.
“We’re very pleased that Planned Parenthood’s abortion facility in Waco has stopped performing abortions indefinitely,” Pojman said. “That means that the new laws passed by the Legislature to increase safety standards in abortion facilities are working.”
John Pisciotta, a Baylor alum and director of Pro-Life Waco, an organization committed to ending abortion, said while Pro-Life Waco played a part in the closure, the pro-life movement has a lot of components.
“A lot of things work together,” Pisciotta said. “We have been very active but all these people that have been working, praying and donating for decades have been hugely important as well.”
For Pisciotta, the news of the facility’s closure brought reassurance to Pro-Life Waco’s mission.
“I don’t think this is the end of abortion for mothers that live here, and I believe there will still be abortion,” Pisciotta said. “But they won’t be in Waco anymore. It’s been a burden on my heart over the years that I live in a city where there is shedding of innocent blood, so the closing means a lot.”
*Editor’s Note: Oct. 9, 2014: This article has been updated to include comments from a representative from Planned Parenthood. Upon publication of the original article, a representative from Planned Parenthood could not be reached for comment.