Dec. 07CORPUS CHRISTI The state's more restrictive abortion requirements caused the Coastal Bend's sole abortion provider to limit abortions to two weeks per month, but an influx of patients from the Rio Grande Valley is keeping the clinic busy.
Under the new law, doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles. That mandate shuttered the clinics in McAllen and Harlingen, and those women have come north seeking services at the nearest clinics in Corpus Christi and San Antonio.
The number of patients from the Valley has tripled at the Birth Control Center, said Dr. Eduardo Aquino.
He has been able to keep the clinic open because he maintained his admitting privileges with Christus Spohn.
Aquino, who began providing abortions in Corpus Christi in 1977, moved to San Antonio 13 years ago to focus on building his business there while a visiting doctor performed abortions at the Morgan Avenue clinic.
But that doctor didn't have admitting privileges at any local hospitals, so when the new requirements took effect, Aquino had to come back. He now splits his time between San Antonio and Corpus Christi and the clinic, which used to provide abortions once a week, now offers them every other week.
While the clinic saw an increase in Valley patients, more local women are traveling to San Antonio for abortions avoid the wait, Aquino said.
Traveling back and forth between the cities has been taxing on Aquino, who recently had back surgery, but he plans to continue because he strongly believes women should have access to abortion where they live.
"My life has changed completely," he said. "I keep on doing it, not because I need to, but because I think somebody has to give service here in this area."
Still, the clock is ticking on a deadline to upgrade the clinic to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, another mandate of the new law that goes into effect in September.
Licensed ambulatory surgical centers must have space for patients to stay for up to 23 hours, X-ray equipment, food service arrangements and more complex sterilization equipment than abortion facilities have.
Coastal Birth Control Center doesn't meet the new standards and is too outdated and small to renovate, meaning he would have to tear down the clinic and build a new one in its place. That could cost about $1.5 million, a price tag Aquino said he can't afford without a partner. And given the politicized nature surrounding abortion, it could be difficult for any new doctor to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals as required by law.
Aquino said he's actively searching for a partner, calling doctors around the state to see if they would be interested, but he has not found any takers. He estimates construction would take seven to nine months, so he needs to make a decision by early 2014.
If Aquino's clinic closed, San Antonio would be the only place in South Texas with abortion providers, meaning some women would have to travel up to 300 miles to get an abortion.
(c)2013 the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas)
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