MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) — When the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals June 9 upheld Texas abortion restrictions, it granted an exception to a facility in McAllen, the last operating clinic in the Rio Grande Valley.
The court upheld a state law requiring abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety standards as facilities that provide other outpatient surgeries. Abortion providers have to maintain hospital admitting privileges so women who suffer post-abortion complications can receive emergency care at a hospital if they need it.
The ruling will effectively shut down all but eight of the abortion clinics in Texas. Prior to the law’s passage, there were about 40 abortion facilities in the state.
The appeals court, however, granted an exemption to Whole Women’s Health in downtown McAllen.
Abortion supporters claimed the law placed an “undue burden” on women in the Rio Grande Valley, including undocumented women, who are seeking an abortion, because they will be forced to drive hundreds of miles to clinics in Houston or San Antonio. Undocumented women are deterred from traveling outside of the valley because of the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints.
The court ruling served “as a wake-up call for sure” for pro-life advocates in the valley, said Yolanda Chapa, founder of the McAllen Pregnancy Center, a Catholic pro-life facility that each year serves more than 1,400 women who are considering abortion.
“We need to do everything we can to get organized again and to organize even more strongly than we have in the past,” said Chapa, who also serves as a sidewalk counselor outside of the McAllen abortion clinic.
“We are in dire need of help, of prayers and support,” she told The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.
The McAllen abortion clinic closed in March 2014 because it did not meet the requirements of the 2013 state law. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed it and other clinics to reopen in the fall of 2014 when the court put a hold on the provision that clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical center as the lawsuit moved through the appeals process.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Texas women’s health care providers plan to appeal the 5th Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The group’s lawyers asked the appeals court June 10 to keep its ruling from going into effect July 1 while they appeal the decision.
The law also prohibits abortions after 20 weeks and says that RU-486 and other abortion pills can only be dispensed by a doctor. In the case of RU-486, a two-day regimen, the second day’s dosage must be taken performed under doctor supervision and not at home.
While the Whole Women’s Health clinic was closed, the once-vibrant pro-life sidewalk ministry lost momentum.
“When the clinic closed, people kind of went to different ministries,” Chapa said. “Now it’s time to get them back.”
The sidewalk ministry provides a peaceful and prayerful presence outside of the abortion clinic. Volunteers keep vigil not only for the unborn babies whose lives are at risk but also for the mothers — and fathers and other family members and friends — who may believe that abortion is the woman’s only choice.
Pro-life advocates also pray for the clinic staff and volunteers.
Individuals, couples, families and church groups come to the sidewalk to pray.
A men’s prayer and fellowship group, Los Caballeros de San Miguel of San Cristobal Magallanes and Companions Parish Church in Mission, gathers outside of the abortion clinic on Thursday and Saturday mornings to pray the rosary. The group displays images of Mary and St. Michael the Archangel as members pray in a circle, providing witness to the sanctity of life.
“We need more people to pray with us and for us,” said Eric Trevino, a member of the group. “We invite other groups and families to join us. We would love to see more parishes participate in this ministry.”
Those who are trained as sidewalk counselors stand on the public sidewalk leading up to the abortion clinic and give out life-saving information with a loving, nonjudgmental approach. The ultimate goal is to invite abortion-minded mothers to the McAllen Pregnancy Center two blocks away.
Since the abortion clinic reopened in September, it has provided escorts to serve as buffer between the women and the pro-life sidewalk counselors.
The sidewalk counselors offer literature on the realities of abortion as well as contact information for the McAllen Pregnancy Center.
The escorts, most of whom are college-age, wear colorful vests with the words “Pro-Choice Escort” emblazoned on the back.
“We smile, we greet them, we bless them and we pray for them,” Chapa said of the escorts. “We accomplish so much more with prayer than by battling it out.
“I’ve always said that the sidewalk is Calvary and it’s such a privilege to be at the foot of Jesus’ cross, if for nothing else just to console him and to give dignity to the death of these innocent children.”
Ybarra is assistant editor of The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.