When I was in college, I had an experience that changed me forever. I made an appointment at my local reproductive health clinic — which also provided abortion care — for my check-up and to get contraception. What I saw when I got there shocked me. Outside, aggressive protesters were screaming in the faces of women just trying to get in to get health care. As I ran the gauntlet, I was physically assaulted. I remember thinking, “They don’t even know why I’m here — and it shouldn’t matter.”
As traumatic as that experience was, I am sad to say that aggressive or even violent protesters are just the beginning of what women face when trying to get to a clinic, whether to end a pregnancy or for other care. In some ways I was lucky: After all, there was a clinic for me to go to. Increasingly, the same cannot be said for millions of Latinas across the country.
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case to decide whether Texas’ law (HB 2), which would lead to the shutdown of clinics, will stand. This law has already resulted in the closure of half of the abortion providers in Texas, and these devastating impacts will only get worse if it is not overturned.
Since this law was passed, I have heard almost daily from Latinas in Texas about the harms of HB 2, with young, immigrant and low-income Latinas seeing the worst effects. In fact, earlier this year I was proud to join other Latino/a civil rights leaders in an amicus brief sharing these stories with the court.
Let me be perfectly clear: The harms of HB 2 on the 2.5 million Latinas of reproductive age in Texas are direct, documented, and disproportionate. For many, the burdens imposed by HB 2 act as a de facto ban on abortion.
A Latina in Texas already faces significant barriers to accessing reproductive healthcare. Texas Latinas face higher than average poverty levels and experience greater rates of unintended pregnancy. Sadly, the state of Texas is not only ignoring these realities, but legislators have actually acted to make matters worse. Texas lawmakers recently dismantled the state’s reproductive health safety net and, in 2012, met only 13 percent of the need for publicly funded contraception. There’s no question Latinas are struggling to get any kind of reproductive healthcare in these conditions.
For a Latina seeking an abortion, the obstacles multiply. Many Texas Latinas are juggling one or more jobs, school, and caring for their children, so making and keeping medical appointments is hard enough. In Texas, the law actually forces a woman seeking abortion to make multiple appointments — even though her doctor doesn’t require it — and studies show this forces women to delay care.
Transportation is another major barrier for Latinas in the huge and largely rural state of Texas. Women have to find, arrange, and pay for transportation in a state where infrastructure is inadequate and towns often isolated. Add to that the current climate of excessive immigration enforcement and border patrol checkpoints and a trip to the clinic could mean being detained or even deported — as one Latina found out late last year.
This law is not only shutting down clinics, it’s creating circumstances that make it nearly impossible for women to get care. HB 2 has created a perfect storm of barriers to prevent a woman from getting an abortion.
The women affected by this law come from all backgrounds, but there is no question that Latinas are feeling some of the worst effects. In fact, Latinas make up a majority of women of reproductive age in Texas. Berta, a 25-year old Latina from Edinberg and mother of two, missed two days of school to have an abortion, and she is only allowed a total of three absences. The multiple appointments now mean that she cannot take off more days if she or her children get sick without jeopardizing her education.
The impact of the Texas law on families and economic stability is also becoming clear. For example, Cecilia, a 28-year old Latina mother of three from Hidalgo, could only schedule her appointment when her children were in school and faced getting fired if she took more than two days off from her job. These factors delayed when she could get the care she needed, which also makes the procedure more expensive.
Forcing women to travel hundreds of miles to the few clinics that remain increases the cost of the procedure: Women have to pay for travel, lodging, and child care in addition to the cost of abortion itself. Griselda and Halley, each 32-year old women living in Houston, reported borrowing money from relatives and co-workers, getting cash advances from their employers, taking out pay day loans at 17 percent interest, and pawning personal possessions.
For immigrants, mothers, low-wage workers, and Latinas who are all three, securing an abortion means navigating a state-created obstacle course. Those unable to jump through these hoops will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or take matters into their own hands. Even those who can make it work may risk their jobs, their financial stability, or even their freedom.
Every Latina in Texas needs and deserves to be able to get safe reproductive health care from a provider in her community, without politically motivated obstacles standing in her way. This is true no matter how much money she makes, her age, or her immigration status.
Yet today’s Texas falls far short of this vision. And other states are watching closely to decide whether they’ll follow Texas’ bad example.
That’s why I stand with the Latinas of Texas, and with Latino/a leaders from across the country, in our ardent hope that the Supreme Court will side with women and families and uphold, once more, our constitutional right to abortion. The future of millions of Latinas hangs in the balance.
Jessica González-Rojas is the executive director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the only national reproductive justice organization that specifically works to advance reproductive health and rights for Latinas.