ARGYLE, Texas — Two days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 27-year-old woman gave birth to her fourth child, a boy she named Cason. Born after his mother fled domestic abuse and was denied an abortion, he is one of the first of many post-Roe babies expected in Texas.
“I love my children and I feel like I’m a very good mother,” said Cason’s mother, who asked to be identified by her first initial, T. “But because of this pregnancy, I couldn’t support them.”
One in 10 people of reproductive age in the United States lives in Texas, which will soon join half of all states in banning nearly all abortions. Texas’ conservative leadership has spent decades limiting access to abortion while cutting social spending and publicly funded health care. Now, even some anti-abortion advocates say their state is woefully unprepared for a likely surge in births to poor women.
Rolling over Roe “creates the sense of urgency that will now hopefully be created by resources. But unfortunately, there is that gap,” said Aubrey Schlackman, founder of Blue Haven Ranch, an anti-abortion nonprofit that provides housing and other assistance to the family of T.
“We want to limit abortions,” Ms. Schlackman continued. “But personally we weren’t ready to handle an influx, and I know a lot of the other nonprofits we work with aren’t ready for that either.”
Texas is one of the most dangerous states in the country to have a baby. The state’s maternal mortality rate is one of the worst in the country, and black women account for a disproportionate share of deaths. The state’s infant mortality rate, in more than five deaths per thousand births in 2020translates to nearly 2,000 child deaths a year.
texas opted not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which helped cause hospital closures and the formation of rural health care “deserts” where obstetricians are scarce and prenatal care is even scarcer. More than a quarter of women of childbearing age are uninsured, the highest rate in the country. Medicaid covers low-income women during pregnancy and for two months after delivery, compared to 12 months in most states.
A proposal in the Texas House of Representatives to expand postpartum coverage to 12 months was cut to six months by the state Senate. Tens of thousands of children born to low-income parents languish on the waiting list for subsidized child care.
In September of last year, Texas passed Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions for patients with detectable embryonic heart activity, which typically begins around six weeks. A recent analysis by the Times suggests that Texas’s abortion rate dropped just 10 percent after the bill passed, as more women traveled out of state or ordered medical abortions by mail. But poor patients often lack those options.
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“Assuming that only 10 percent of women can’t secure an abortion, that’s a massive increase in fertility,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies religious liberty, legal health and equality.
“There is no way that there are institutions prepared to meet that demand.”
Three years ago, T. was an accountant for a chain of gyms. At $36 an hour, it was the highest paying job he had ever had. She was proud to become the main breadwinner for her family after her partner, with whom she has been since high school, lost her construction job during the pandemic. But early in her pregnancy with Cason, she developed complications that eventually forced her to quit her job.
The family scrimped, moving into smaller and smaller houses until late last year, when they finally had to move in with their partner’s mother. The couple was unloading her belongings, with her young daughter in the stroller next to her, when “he hit me,” T said. Her partner strangled her, she said, until she lost consciousness. When a stranger revived her, she had trouble speaking and a ring of bruises encircled her neck. Terrified for her children, she fled the next morning to a domestic violence shelter, she said.
She said that she had never sought an abortion before. But the prospect of raising four young children alone and giving birth alone filled T. with despair. She agonized over the needs of her three children and the sacrifices. “If I do this, I will make sure that they are always well, always well taken care of,” she said that she remembered thinking.
“It was a very difficult decision, but I felt it was smart for me.”
Her sister took her to Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, an abortion provider in Dallas. But Texas had just passed Senate Bill 8, and providers told T. that she was about seven weeks pregnant, too long for an abortion in Texas. She Could she travel to New Mexico? In the waiting room, T. was sobbing. The trip was impossible. She had no money and she had so few child care options that she had brought her young daughter to the appointment. She did not know about medical abortion.
T. joined his sister, who was waiting in the parking lot. She was sitting in the car, distraught, when she was approached by an anti-abortion “sidewalk counselor.”
“‘You’re not alone. If you’re pregnant and need help, we can help,'” the sidewalk counselor told her, recalled T.
“I started crying,” said T., “in a sense of relief.”
The next day, the woman T. had met in the parking lot guided her to Birth Choice, a pregnancy-versus-abortion resource center located in the same office complex as the abortion provider.
Some pregnancy centers in anti-abortion crisis have come under scrutiny for misleading or misinforming women seeking abortion services. But at the time, “I was asked the perfect questions,” T. said of the Birth Choice counselor. “Am I okay? Are my kids okay? What did I need?”
“Yes, I had left everything,” he said. “They provided everything for me right there: baby bag, diapers, formula, clothes for me. They even gave me a pair of clothes for my daughter and a toy,” said T.
“Then my counselor comes back and says, ‘I found you a spot.'”
The place was Blue Haven Ranch, based in Argyle, about 45 minutes from Dallas.
Blue Haven provides housing, help with household bills, job training, and financial and other counseling for up to a year or more after delivery for pregnant women with existing children. Among Americans seeking abortion services, 60 percent are already mothers and half have two or more children. Most are in their twenties and poor.
Ms. Schlackman, 34, a former dental hygienist, evangelical Christian, and mother of two, founded Blue Haven in 2020.
She grew up believing that women seek abortion services out of convenience. “Now I can understand why they would choose him,” she said.
Ms. Schlackman requires women to attend group information sessions with a strong religious component at a community church on Monday nights. Blue Haven is not looking for money from the government or from anyone who might question her religious approach. It receives donations from both those who support abortion rights and those who oppose it, Schlackman said, reading a note from one who sent $50: “’I do not share your beliefs about abortion and Christianity, but I hope you will use your strength to encourage initiatives similar in other places’”.
Blue Haven supports five families and there are 12 on the waiting list. The cost is about $2,500 per family per month for housing and utilities, plus gas and unexpected household expenses. A financier in Boston who read about Blue Haven and offered to help recently negotiated a used car deal for a mother with a low credit score.
Currently there is no ranch; families live in rented apartments. Mrs. Schlackman and her husband Bryan have plans to buy a rolling piece of land outside of Denton, Texas, and build a compound with tiny houses, a meeting house and a group kitchen, plus open space and cattle for “therapy.” farm”.
Standing in the wheat field where she imagines the houses will be, Ms. Schlackman estimated that she would need to raise $13 million for three years of land, construction and operating funds. After Roe was overturned, Blue Haven received $25,000 in donations within two days.
His focus on the Bible and emphasis on Christian family ideals make some Blue Haven mothers uncomfortable. But for T., the group offered a lifeline at a time when options were scarce. On a recent Monday night, she attended a group session while her children played on the church’s immaculate playground, supervised by volunteer grandparents. Other volunteers prepared a community dinner.
Blue Haven hosted a baby shower for T. and her supporters bought everything on a list Ms. Schlackman created. (T. chose a zoo animal theme for her son’s layette, in shades of blue and green.) When Cason was born, Mrs. Schlackman was there, tending to T. at the spa-like birthing center where she had given birth to children of her own.
Blue Haven’s attendance will end approximately one year after Cason’s first birthday.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” T. said on a Thursday, four days after giving birth to Cason. “I have a year to rebuild my life while my body heals, and four children to care for at the same time. It’s scary. I try not to think about what will happen when I leave the show. I know that I can be a great mother, it’s just, can I provide for my children, keep the children healthy and safe and have a roof over our heads and food?
She hopes, she said, to get another job as an accountant and eventually move into her own house.
She said she has a message for the Texas Legislature.
“You do not know what is best for any family, you did not protect me or my children. I protect my children. Only a mom can know what is best for her and her family. And if she’s going to force women to have all these babies that they’re not ready to have, then she has to support women and their children after the babies are born.”
Earlier in the week, just a day and a half after giving birth, T. had something else to say.
“Women, all we really have is our dignity and our voices,” she said. And you take them.
Erin Schaff contributed reporting from Argyle and Margot Sanger-Katz from Washington.