Which US City Is About To Become The Largest Without An Abortion Clinic?

Clocking in at number nineteen in population, El Paso, Texas, is perhaps the most isolated and overlooked major city in America. Lacking a major league sports team or renowned industry, El Paso has long sat as something of an ignored, forgettable pass-through.

Now, though, El Paso stands set to finally stake a claim to fame. Unfortunately, such title is not one any city could want.

According to a piece in the El Paso Times this week, El Paso could soon become the largest city in the United States without a viable abortion clinic. With the new, highly restrictive abortion limits passed in Texas's House Bill 2, both of El Paso's abortion clinics will likely be forced to close before the year is out.

As the Times reported this week:

Dr. Franz Theard, the doctor who owns El Paso's Hilltop Women's Reproductive Clinic, said there is no way his business can afford to make the upgrades required by House Bill 2, a controversial law passed in a special legislative session last summer that places harsh new regulations on abortion. Among them, the new law requires that clinics retrofit to qualify as "ambulatory surgical centers" — which would require Hilltop to widen hallways, enlarge surgical suites, add locker rooms, install backup generators and make other changes.

"We're not going to retrofit and spend $2 million to become a surgical center," Theard said.

The clinics wouldn't be the first in the state to cease abortions - 31 of the previous 36 abortion clinics were slated to end the procedure - but the El Paso locations would be perhaps the most notable hit by the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1. Nearly 700,000 people live in El Paso, easily the largest city in West Texas.

Texas's abortion wars have only continued following Wendy Davis's well-known 2013 filibuster, but it appears that anti-choice forces seem to be winning in the state.

In another dispiriting sign of Texas trends, State Sen. Dan Patrick won a plurality of votes in the lieutenant governor's race earlier this month. Patrick, the Tea Party favorite, stands as the heavy favorite in the upcoming runoff with current Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, with the winner set to become the second-most powerful official in the state. In addition to his virulent homophobia and affirmed creationism, Patrick has noted in the past that he wants to "end abortion."

However, there is still room for hope. A ruling from a San Antonio judge last year that House Bill 2 was unconstitutional has been appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, with any subsequent ruling likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court. While Texas's hard-right factions have taken control of the state legislature, reprieve may have to come, once more, from DC.

Image: Texas pro-choice rally, July, 2013. Photo by Sydney via Twitter

Casey Michel HeadshotCasey Michel is a graduate student at Columbia University, and former Peace Corps Kazakhstan volunteer. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, and Talking Points Memo, and he has contributed multiple long-form investigations to Minneapolis's City Pages and the Houston Press. You can follow him on Twitter.

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