In January 2015, Aubrey Reinhardt came to an important conclusion: It was time to get on birth control.
The 20-year-old Texas Tech University senior was in a serious relationship, and after a prudent discussion with her partner, she’d made up her mind. Analytical by nature, Reinhardt sought information on her options and narrowed down the list of contraceptives she wanted to know more about. Ultimately, that might have been the easiest part of the process.
Through friends and family, she knew that Planned Parenthood was a trusted source for reproductive health care, but in the Panhandle city of Lubbock, that would not be an option. The university town’s two Planned Parenthood clinics had closed down in 2014, the result of a series of ill-fated political decisions made by state lawmakers hellbent on fully defunding the 100-year-old provider.
Reinhardt asked around and was told that the university’s medical center was now the go-to for birth control. On a cloudless, cold winter day, she and a friend headed to campus to see the doctor. It did not go well. After assessing Reinhardt’s medical history, the doctor said she believed Reinhardt had a blood-clotting problem and was “too unhealthy” to be on birth control. While it is true that Reinhardt had a minor health scare the year before, any clotting problems had been ruled out before she underwent surgery to address the issue. Reinhardt was stunned. “I thought, Where the heck is this coming from?” she recalled recently. “This is bizarre to me, but I’m thinking, OK, she’s a medical professional … and I’m a kid and I’m trusting her.”
The doctor said she would consider prescribing contraceptives, but only if Reinhardt would get her primary care doctor and her surgeon to fill out packets of paperwork. She would also have to visit a hormone specialist and request additional documentation. “I was as baffled as you are right now,” she said. When the doctor left the room, Reinhardt and her friend tried to figure out what had just happened. “I’m getting a little bit emotional because I’m like, this is a bombshell that’s just been dropped on my life, like I must be very ill and I just don’t even know it.”
When the doctor returned and saw Reinhardt crying, she was scornful. “’Why are you so upset, why are you crying? Are you really in that big a hurry to become sexually active?’” Reinhardt recalled her saying. “And that was the moment that … everything clicked with me: This isn’t an issue with my health, this is an issue of a doctor who doesn’t agree with what I’m wanting.”
Reinhardt tried to contact a reproductive health clinic that had promised it would pick up the slack after Planned Parenthood left town, but it had already folded its operations. She tried another provider but was told it would take four months to get an appointment. Frustrated and angry, Reinhardt called Planned Parenthood — maybe there was a clinic somewhere nearby and she just wasn’t aware of it. No, she was told, there wasn’t a clinic anywhere in the Panhandle, an area more than twice the size of Massachusetts. The two closest clinics still open were four hours southwest, in El Paso, and four hours east, in Fort Worth.