Legislative Threats to Women’s Right To Choose Doubly Impact Communities of Color

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Photo courtesy of CNN.

Over the past few days, America and the entire world have been seething with outrage after Texas passed what is now the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country’s history. What is clearly a war on the individual rights of women and people with vaginas is also a double obstacle course for communities of color.

As explained by the Texas Tribune, the near-total ban on abortions in Texas is driving patients out of the state to undergo the procedure. Advocates say many immigrants and women of color cannot leave, perpetuating the inequalities suffered by communities of color.

While clinics in neighboring states were saturated amid jammed phone lines and an unprecedented influx of online appointments from people considering moving out of state to undergo the procedures, many women in Texas were faced with the terrifying reality of having no choice at all.

“That’s the people that have a working car, that can get time off, who have somebody who can take care of their kids,” said Vicki Cowart, president, and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which covers New Mexico, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada. “There are going to be thousands of individuals who don’t have that wherewithal, and it’s really particularly going to impact women of color, young women, rural women.”

The Texas law, considered one of the strictest abortion laws to go into effect since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, not only bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo — around three weeks — but authorizes any private citizen to sue those they suspect of violating it, from providers to the women seeking the procedure to even the Uber drivers who take women to abortion clinics.

But abortion providers, as well as advocates for the rights of immigrants and Black women, say the new restrictions will not establish a de facto ban on abortion for all Texans. On the contrary, they argue, state lawmakers have created a system that will hit teens and Texans with disabilities the hardest, in addition to further harming poor women in communities of color, the Tribune continues.

Half of U.S. women who had abortions in 2014 lived in poverty, double the percentage from 1994, according to a 2016 study by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group. Texas health data show that Black patients accounted for about 30% of Texas abortions in 2020, even though 12% of the state’s population is Black. In Texas and nationally, Black women are far more likely to die in pregnancy-related deaths than white or Hispanic women.

“For Black women, we know that our young girls are at risk of losing their futures because they’ll be forced to parent before they’re prepared,” said Michelle Anderson with the Afiya Center, an advocacy group for Black Texans reproductive rights. “It will further perpetuate the rate of generational poverty in Black communities. It also perpetuates the rate of maternal mortality.”

Similarly, nearly 39% of reported abortions in Texas in 2018 were in Hispanic patients, 27% in white patients, and 7% in patients of other racial and ethnic groups, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the broader data reported by 30 states and the District of Columbia, Black patients accounted for 34% of abortions, Hispanic patients 20%, white patients 39%, and other groups 8%.

The reality is that the Texas abortion law will disproportionately affect communities of color, low-income people, and other historically marginalized groups, as it is not just cisgender women who seek abortions.

“Essentially, it’s a total abortion ban,” Jamila Perritt, a Washington, D.C.-area OB-GYN who provides abortion care and serves as president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told MarketWatch. “But it runs along race and income lines, and so it’s very clearly discriminatory and inequitable.”

The law, which can still be challenged in courts, “would particularly affect Black patients and those living on low incomes or who live far from a facility that provides abortion because they often experience delays obtaining care,” according to a July research brief by the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

“The main reasons Texans are delayed include the need to come up with enough money to pay for their visits because abortion is not covered by Medicaid and most private insurance plans in Texas; difficulties coordinating appointments around their job, school and childcare; and challenges scheduling the state-mandated ultrasound and separate abortion visits with the same physician as required by Texas law,” the authors wrote.

Research suggests that higher rates of unintended pregnancy among people of color may be related to disparities in access to and consistent use of contraception, which are often rooted in structural inequalities such as poverty and racism. About 42% of unintended pregnancies in the United States in 2011 ended in abortion, according to a 2016 study.

“It is contraception [access], it is access to care in and of itself, it is the way that racism is embedded into every system in this country — including our healthcare system — that results in inequitable health outcomes for our communities,” Perritt said.