May 20, 2024

ARGYLE, Texas — Two days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 27-year-old woman delivered her fourth child, a boy she named Cason. Born after his mother fled from domestic abuse and was denied an abortion, he is among the first of many post-Roe babies expected in Texas.

“I love my kids and I feel like I’m a really good mom,” said Cason’s mother, who asked to be identified by her first initial, T. “But due to this pregnancy, I couldn’t provide for them.”

One in 10 people of reproductive age in America lives in Texas, which will soon join half of all the states in outlawing almost all abortions. Texas’s conservative leadership has spent decades narrowing abortion access while cutting social spending and publicly-funded health care. Now, even some anti-abortion adherents say their state is woefully unprepared for a likely surge in births among poor women.

The overturning of Roe “creates the sense of urgency that now will create, hopefully, the resources. But unfortunately, there’s that gap,” said Aubrey Schlackman, founder of Blue Haven Ranch, an anti-abortion nonprofit that is providing housing and other assistance for T.’s family.

“We do want to limit abortions,” Ms. Schlackman continued. “But we personally weren’t ready to handle an influx, and I know so many of the other nonprofits that we work with aren’t ready for that, either.”

Texas is one of the most dangerous states in the nation to have a baby. The state’s maternal mortality rate is one of the worst in the country, with Black women making up a disproportionate share of deaths. The state’s infant mortality rate, at more than five deaths per thousand births in 2020, translates into nearly 2,000 infant deaths annually.

Texas opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which helped lead to hospital closures and the formation of rural health care “deserts,” where obstetricians are scarce and prenatal care scarcer still. More than a quarter of women of childbearing age are uninsured, the highest rate in the nation. Medicaid covers low-income women through pregnancy and for two months postpartum, compared with 12 months in most states.

A proposal in the Texas House 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, banning abortions for patients with detectable embryonic cardiac activity, which generally begins at about six weeks. A recent Times analysis suggests that Texas’s abortion rate declined by only 10 percent after the bill passed, as more women traveled out of state or ordered medication abortions by mail. But poor patients often lack those options.

“Assuming just 10 percent of women aren’t able to to secure an abortion, that’s a massive rise in fertility,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies religious liberty, health law and equality.

“There’s no way there are any institutions prepared to meet that demand.”

Three years ago, T. was a bookkeeper for a chain of fitness centers. At $36 an hour, it was the best-paying job she had ever held. She was proud to become her family’s main breadwinner after her partner, whom she has been with since high school, lost his 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 economized, moving into smaller and smaller homes until late last year, when they finally had to move in with the mother of her partner. The couple were unloading their belongings, with their infant daughter in her stroller nearby, when “he snapped on me,” T. said. Her partner choked her, she said, until she lost consciousness. When she was revived by a stranger she had trouble speaking, and a ring of bruises circled her neck. Terrified for her children, she fled the next morning to a shelter for domestic violence victims, she said.

She said she had never sought an abortion before. But the prospect of raising four young children on her own, and of giving birth alone, filled T. with desperation. She agonized about the needs of her three children, and about sacrifices. “If I do this, I will make sure they’re always good, are always taken care of,” she said she recalled thinking.

“It was a very difficult decision, but I felt like it was a smart one for me.”

Her sister drove her to Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, an abortion provider in Dallas. But Texas had just enacted Senate Bill 8, and the providers told T. that she was about seven weeks pregnant — too far along for an abortion in Texas. Could she travel to New Mexico? In the waiting room, T. sobbed. The trip was impossible. She had no money, and so few child care options that she had brought her baby daughter with her to the appointment. She didn’t know about medication abortion.

T. rejoined her sister, who was waiting in the parking lot. She was sitting in the car, distraught, when an anti-abortion “sidewalk counselor” approached.

“‘You are not alone. If you are pregnant and you need help, we can help you,’” the sidewalk counselor told her, T. recalled.

“I just started crying,’’ T. said, “in a sense of relief.”

The next day the woman T. had met in the parking lot guided her to Birth Choice, an anti-abortion pregnancy resource center located in the same office complex as the abortion provider.

Some anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers have come under scrutiny for misleading or misinforming women seeking abortion care. But in that moment, “They asked me the perfect questions,” T. said of the Birth Choice counselor. “Am I OK? Are my kids doing OK? What did I need?

“Mind you, I had left everything,” she said. “They provided me with everything right there: baby bag, diapers, formula, clothes for me. They even gave me a couple of little clothes for my daughter and a toy,” T. said.

“Then my counselor comes back and says, ‘I found you a place.’”

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 a up to a year or more after delivery for pregnant women with existing children. Among Americans who seek abortion care, 60 percent are already mothers, and half have two or more children. Most are in their late 20s, 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 care for the sake of convenience. “Now I can understand why they would choose it,” she said.

Ms. Schlackman requires women to attend group informational sessions with a strong religious component in a community church on Monday nights. Blue Haven does not seek money from the government or anyone else that might question its religious approach. It takes in donations from abortion rights supporters as well as opponents, Ms. Schlackman said, reading a note from one, who sent $50: “‘I don’t share your beliefs about abortion and Christianity, but I do hope you’ll use your strength to encourage similar initiatives elsewhere.’”

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 deal on a used car for a mother with a poor credit score.

Currently there is no ranch; the families live in rented apartments. Ms. Schlackman and her husband Bryan have plans to buy a patch of rolling acreage outside Denton, Tex., and build a compound with small homes, a meeting house and group kitchen, plus open spaces and livestock for “farm therapy.”

Standing in the wheat field where she envisions the houses will stand, Ms. Schlackman estimated that she would need to raise $13 million for the land, construction and three years’ operating funds. After Roe was overturned, Blue Haven received $25,000 in donations in two days.

Its focus on the Bible and emphasis on Christian family ideals make some Blue Haven mothers uncomfortable. But for T., the group offered a lifeline in a time of dwindling options. One recent Monday night she attended a group session while her children played on the church’s pristine playground, supervised by grandparent volunteers. Other volunteers laid out a communal supper.

Blue Haven threw a baby shower for T., and its supporters bought everything on a registry that Ms. Schlackman created. (T. chose a zoo animal theme for her son’s layette, in shades of blue and green.) When Cason was born Ms. Schlackman was there, attending to T. in the spalike birthing center where she had delivered her own sons.

Blue Haven’s assistance will end about a year after Cason’s first birthday.

“The pressure is really on,’’ T. said on a Thursday, four days after she gave birth to Cason. “I have one year to rebuild my life while my body heals, and four kids to take care of at the same time. It’s scary. I try not to think about what will happen when I leave the program. I know I can be a great mom, its just, can I provide for my children, keep the kids healthy and safe and have a roof over our head, and food?”

She is hoping, she said, to get another job as a bookkeeper and eventually move into her own home.

She said she has a message for the Texas Legislature.

“You don’t know what is best for any family, you didn’t protect me or my kids. I protect my kids. Only a mom can know what is best for herself and her family. And if you’re going to force women to have all of these babies that they are not equipped to have, then you need to provide support for 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’re taking them away.”

Erin Schaff contributed reporting from Argyle, and Margot Sanger-Katz from Washington.

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