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by Anessa Anchondo-Rivera
On July 8, I was fortunate to travel from my home in El Paso, to Austin, an eight-hour drive, to witness the Texas State Senate hearings on reproductive health care access in my state. The mood was very intense, the senate floor was full so I sat in a viewing room for most of the day. The Capitol was divided by pro-life supporters wearing blue, and pro-choice supporters wearing orange.
As I sat in the viewing room, I was, at times, surrounded by a sea of blue, but mostly, I was surrounded by the orange of solidarity. The testimonies given that day spoke volumes on the necessity to preserve reproductive health care for all women.
Many pro-life women who had experienced abortions also testified having experienced botched abortion procedures performed by inexperienced doctors. They also spoke of experiencing guilt, depression, coercion and pressure from doctors and they wanted to ban abortion all together and/or they advocated the new heightened provisions to HB2, so women wouldn’t have to experience the same thing they had.
Because of these issues, many women felt the heightened restrictions presented in HB2, such as requiring doctors who provide abortions to be within 30 miles of and have admitting privileges to a hospital as well as requiring clinics that provide abortions to be ambulatory surgical centers, would be a critical blow to women’s reproductive rights. These pro-life women did not see the provisions as a blow to reproductive health rights, while pro-choice women did see the new provisions as an obstacle to reproductive health care.
Proponents of the bills say the changes, when implemented, will provide the best care for Texas women. I agree, completely. However, the rhetoric surrounding this argument overlooks the point that these new heightened standards will not provide safe care for women who live along the U.S.-Mexico border and women who live in West Texas.
Because, these new standards will close all but 5 of Texas’ 42 clinics, which provide free or affordable health care for women, 90% of the procedures in these clinics are not abortions, rather cancer and STI screenings, birth control and general women’s health. This sends a message that the women of South and West Texas are not worthy of such heightened standards and care. Rather, women who live in the big cities of East Texas, like Austin and Dallas Fort-Worth are.
Currently in El Paso County, the place I call home, there are only two abortion providers, and while they do have admitting privileges to hospitals, their admitting privileges are only for private hospitals in the area. Proponents of HB2 argued abortion clinics would be able to afford the upgrades necessary to be in compliance with the new law, however, clinics may have lease agreements that do not permit such upgrades, and a move would also be financially impossible.
Clinics in El Paso County face closure because they simply cannot meet all the new requirements. If this was truly about providing safe care for women during the abortion procedure, then there would be a real effort by the state to provide some type of assistance so clinics can become compliant with the new laws and provide these new heightened standards for all women in Texas.
“If this was truly about providing safe care for women during the abortion procedure, then there would be a real effort by the state to provide some type of assistance so clinics can become compliant with the new laws.”
The House of Representatives addressed 47 amendments on Tuesday July 9th, and every single amendment was tabled. The amendments addressed each provision of HB2 and how these new provisions would place an undue burden on women. This is important to note because the Roe vs. Wade decision specifically states that women cannot have undue burden place upon them.
Reproductive choice is a fundamental constitutional right. Women who live in West Texas and along the U.S. Mexico border will have to travel a very long distance to receive any abortion or reproductive care (if they are uninsured) under these new laws, thus placing an undue burden on women who wish to practice their constitutional right to reproductive autonomy.
By not addressing the serious socio-economic and cultural issues that surround the abortion debate, the full picture cannot be seen. In Texas, 49% of children are part of low-income families; Texas has a higher poverty rate than the whole of the United States.
Conservative pro-life politicians in Texas are willing to gut K-12 education, they are willing to cut Medicaid programs, and they are willing to cut food programs, all which help low-income people. A true pro-life movement would advocate for healthy, educated communities, where jobs paid living wages. Women would not need abortions if better socio-economic safety nets and access to sexual education and reproductive care was available for them. Choosing to have an abortion is the hardest decision to make, but it is the decision of the woman, possibly her family, along with the medical guidance of a trusted doctor, to make.
These new laws will not limit abortion, they will not create well-trained doctors who know how to safely perform the procedure and they will not lessen the need. Abortion is legal in the United States and in Texas.
What these new laws will do is limit access for low-income women of color, thus making these laws racist and classist. Women all across the United States deserve the best reproductive health care access. The fight is not over after this. There is so much work to be done. Election season is quickly coming upon Texans; we must rally together and continue to fight.
Anessa Anchondo-Rivera is a feminista, mother, wife and graduate student studying sociology, and women & gender studies at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Anchondo-Rivera is active in the social justice community in El Paso County. She is also a part of the artist collective Movimiento Hunab Ku who partners with their sister collective Rezizte from Ciudad Juarez Chihuahua Mexico, for various art/social justice events.