This is a bleak week for Texas, where forced pregnancy is now the law of the land. Extremist politicians have effectively banned abortion care in the state by enacting a slew of laws directly attacking our human rights and reproductive agency.
Senate Bill 8, a law that went into effect on September 1, prohibits abortion after six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant, making it the most restrictive abortion ban in the U.S. And in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has refused to block this callous, toxic ban.
But this law is just the latest in a recent spate of harmful legislation taking aim at Texans’ reproductive rights. A separate ban, which was upheld by U.S. courts just weeks ago, effectively outlawed the most common method of abortion care in the second trimester of pregnancy, known as a D&E (dilation and evacuation). Lawmakers in the state also recently advanced legislation that would ban medication abortion care, which is overwhelmingly safe and effective, and the least invasive way of ending a pregnancy of up to 10 weeks.
SB8 is especially disturbing, because under the extreme law, people seeking vital reproductive health care in Texas are now facing state-sanctioned harassment. The law authorises “any person” — not government officials — to sue anyone who helps a person to obtain abortion care after six weeks, from physicians and nurses to friends and family who might offer childcare during the visit or transportation to the clinic. The Texas legislature went so far as to institute a $10,000 (£7,230) bounty that encourages neighbours, friends, and family members to pry into each other’s most intimate lives and report on each other to a group of anti-abortion vigilantes who are ready to sue in civil court.
This dystopian scenario is now our reality. This is not Gilead. It is modern-day Texas. And like all other abortion restrictions, the bans being imposed in Texas now will impact our im/migrant communities the most.
According to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, Texans will now have to travel 20 times farther to get abortion care, increasing travel times an average of 3.5 hours by car or bus each way. But the checkpoints set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that surround the Rio Grande Valley, the southern border region of Texas, prevent people without documentation from crossing to another state to seek abortion care. This means that thanks to SB8, our undocumented communities will lose what little access they had to safe abortion care, especially once you consider that anyone who helps a Texan obtain care — even someone like me, who works to organise our communities through advocacy and to build power in the fight for reproductive justice — can now be taken to court for “aiding and abetting” an abortion.
Those who can afford to travel to another state will have far to go. Both Louisiana and Oklahoma are hostile to reproductive justice and continuously seeking to limit access to abortion care, with medically unnecessary waiting periods that force folks to needlessly visit providers on multiple occasions for a safe, straightforward procedure that can be completed within hours. New Mexico does not have any of these baseless restrictions on abortion. However, the state’s clinics will likely not have capacity to provide support for all the Texans coming to seek care.
These outcomes, of course, are by design. Texas has a long history of attempting to restrict abortion care, most notably by banning insurance coverage for abortions and adding layers of baseless restrictions. In 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott used the pandemic as an excuse to issue an executive order that shut down clinics for nearly a month, and showed us what an abortion ban could look like for Texans. People were left without access to vital, time-sensitive care, as hundreds of appointments were canceled all over the state.
And yet where are these politicians when it comes to the maternal mortality rates in Texas, which are among the highest in the country? Where are they when it comes to the lack of affordable childcare and the abysmal healthcare outcomes for Latina/x and Black folks, and other underserved communities in our state?
It is extremely unfortunate that the Supreme Court refused to block this cruel, unjust law from coming into effect in Texas. But frankly, we are not surprised. At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice (Latina Institute), we know that the courts won’t always save us. It is up to us to mobilise our communities, fight for access to reproductive healthcare, and hold our elected officials accountable so that they serve their constituents — the people, not the special interests that seek to strip our Latina/x, Black, and im/migrant communities of our reproductive agency and bodily autonomy.
We know that restrictions on healthcare coverage disproportionately affect Latinas/xs, as well as all people of colour, im/migrants, people with low incomes, young people, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ folks. Im/migrants and people of colour also often work in industries that are undervalued, underpaid, lack basic worker protections, and offer no benefits. Coupled with lack of health insurance and other logistical barriers, fears around documentation status may drive many Latinas/xs to forego reproductive care altogether.
Too many in our communities know the struggle for access all too well. Just a few years after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal throughout the country, Congress implemented the Hyde Amendment, which still exists and which blocks federal funds from covering abortion care. Soon after, a young woman from the Rio Grande Valley, Rosie Jimenez, died of complications from an unsafe abortion. Jimenez, who was already mother to a young daughter, was pursuing an education as a schoolteacher, but couldn’t afford to pay for the abortion care that Medicaid would not cover. The Hyde Amendment had made what was supposed to be a right, a privilege. And it’s irrefutable that due to this legislation, Roe v. Wade left our communities of colour behind.
Four decades after Rosie Jimenez’s death, reproductive health champions in Congress are finally listening to our communities and working to eliminate the Hyde Amendment. But we have a long way to go, especially in Texas, where in 2017, long before this most recent attack on abortion care, the legislature passed a ban on most public and private insurance coverage for abortion care — our state’s version of the discriminatory Hyde Amendment.
The right to an abortion means nothing if you cannot pay for care, or if your state requires multiple visits, waiting periods, and other hurdles you just can’t jump. There is no choice without access. And the reality is, our communities have been struggling for access for years. Access to healthcare in general, access to reproductive care that includes birth control, preventive screenings, prenatal care, postnatal care, and abortion care. Access to healthcare with dignity and full self-determination. And with the passing of SB8, the fight for access just got that much harder, and more urgent.
At Latina Institute, we will continue to empower ourselves and uplift our communities to lead the charge to ensure Latinas/xs and all Texans have access to the full range of reproductive care, including every safe method of abortion care, that they need with dignity and justice.
Nancy Cárdenas Peña is the Director of Texas State Policy and Advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice (Latina Institute)
Note: The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice (Latina Institute), conscious of the importance of the full range of gender identities, utilises gender-neutral terms throughout its materials. “Latina/x” is a term that challenges the gender binary in the Spanish language and embraces the diversity of genders that often are actively erased from spaces. Due to the limitations of data collection, we use “Latina(s),” “Latino(s)” or “women” where research only shows findings for cisgender people. Moreover, Latina Institute uses the term “Hispanic” when the research cited uses the term.