Gonzales County residents will not see much in the way of changes immediately to the provision of healthcare locally in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Friday, June 24, which overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated constitutional protection for abortion.
Currently, there are no providers within Gonzales County who provide abortion services to women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.
Down the road, though, local healthcare providers could see a marked increase in people seeking obstetrical or family planning care because abortions will no longer be allowed within the state of Texas due to a trigger law slated to take effect 30 days after the court finalizes its ruling.
“At least for the services that we provide internally, as far as we know, there won't be any changes or any effect,” said Rafael De La Paz, CEO, Community Health Centers of South Central Texas, which serves a large percentage of the underinsured and uninsured in Gonzales County. “Of course, we don't provide any abortion services as a community health center, and since we use or have received federal funding, there certainly won’t be any change there.
“I think some of the discussions that we've had about possibly some of the impact on other services that we do provide, like family planning services and contraceptive management. This is going to be something that we're gonna have to kind of wait and see as to how Texas interprets the ruling and essentially, what are some of those details that will come on the back end, whether certain contraceptive methods are going to be accepted or not?”
“Technically, if you look at federal law, the morning-after pill is considered a contraceptive. It's not considered an abortive procedure,” added Dr. Debra Irwin, who provides family medicine services at the Gonzales center. “So technically, that should not be affected under federal law, but none of us know what the fallout is going to be in the coming months with all this.
“So right now, the biggest impact for us would be, are we going to be seeing more people for birth control? Are we going to be seeing more people for OB care? Are we going to be seeing more kids in our pediatric nine months from now? I think that's the biggest impact.”
Irwin said Texas’ trigger law banning abortions is going to have a greater impact on those unable to afford to seek one in another state.
The Texas Tribune reported recently that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion advocacy research group, the average Texan would have to drive 525 miles, each way, to obtain an abortion.
“The folks with the money who want an abortion are going to go to another state, because they're going to have the money to pay to go to another state,” Irwin said. “The population we take care of may not have the funding to go do that. Now, that doesn't affect us, again, from the standpoint of abortions, because we don't provide those services, but our population may be more affected, which is why we're looking at from our standpoint, are we gonna see an increase in folks coming in to try to prevent that down the road or maybe a greater number of births resulting from that.”
De La Paz said 53 percent of the population served by the Community Health Center is uninsured, while another 20 to 25 percent are underserved or underinsured.
“I think it's going to be a matter of time to kind of see the effects of this ruling on our population and what we’re thinking is there might be a higher need for women's health services down the road or contraceptive management, or prenatal or post care as well,” De La Paz said.
With nearly 1.6 million individuals in the state of Texas already receiving healthcare through a federally qualified health center (FQHC) like the Community Health Centers of South Central Texas, a potential increase in new clientele could force such centers to look at building capacity to take on more traffic. However, their budgets are constrained, to a degree, by the funding they receive from federal and state resources.
“Hopefully, there's supplemental funding down the road to be able to to increase our capacity, not only on direct services, but also education and being able to meet up do a little bit more community outreach,” De La Paz said.
Gonzales Healthcare Systems’ Women’s Health Department does not provide elective abortion procedures. GHS does provide obstetrical services at Gonzales Memorial Hospital with four labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum suites.
“Our official comment is this (Dobbs ruling) will not impact the healthcare we provide at Gonzales Healthcare Systems,” said Holly Danz, GHS director of marketing.
Texas’ trigger law approved during the previous legislative session bans all abortions from the moment of fertilization and will take effect within 30 days after the finalization of the Dobbs v. Jackson and makes performing abortion a felony.
The law would make an exception only to save the life of a pregnant patient or if they risk “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” Doctors could face life in prison and fines up to $100,000 if they perform abortions in violation of the law.
County Attorney Paul Watkins said his department is going to follow Texas law, whatever it may be, but will not initiate a case that is not referred by law enforcement.
“The easy thing for me to say is we’re going to follow the law,” Watkins said. “I’m not a policymaker; I am a prosecutor, not a policymaker. The way I feel about it all is it’s not my opinion that matters. It’s what the Legislature says.
“I will probably deal with it the same way I deal with everything else. If you have a complaint, you need to get a law enforcement agency involved as we will not take complaints directly from the community and we don’t do that in anything else.”
Local pastor reactions
Josh Breslaw, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gonzales, spoke about God’s command in Exodus 20:13 — “Do not kill” — which he called “concise.”
“This tells us that God values all human life,” Breslaw said. “As Christians, it is our duty to advocate for life, whether those lives are children inside their mother’s womb, children born into poverty, mothers, migrants, refugees, or anyone in need.
“Regardless of government laws and policies, the church should always ‘take care of the least of these’ (Matthew 25:40) because this is what God commands.”
Charlie Mills, pastor of Gonzales Church of Christ, said his church is non-denominational, so “there is not an official position across all affiliations.”
“We (locally) are happy about the ruling, but the fact of the matter is abortion is not ending,” Mills said. “It just gives the power overall back to the states. I think the opinion will cause a lot of controversy with churches, but also is an opportunity for open discussion and gives us an avenue for people to discuss how they feel and not just fight and argue.”