Few pieces of legislation have been as venomous an attack on women's bodily autonomy as the Texan abortion law. While the law was recently struck down by the Supreme Court in a landmark ruling, this will be scant consolation for the thousands of women denied abortion access in the year-long period the law was in effect. Now, new research shows just how disproportionately women in the state of Texas were affected.
A Dallas Morning News investigation finds the law effectively prevented Hispanic and black women from accessing abortion care more than any other group. In 2014—the first year after the ban was introduced—there was a 14 percent state-wide drop in abortions across Texas. That equates to 9,000 fewer abortions than in 2013.
While the situation was bad for all Texas women, Hispanic and black women from predominantly low socio-economic groups bore the brunt of the ban. The number of Hispanic women having abortions dropped 18 percent, the equivalent of 4,400 fewer abortions than the previous year. Meanwhile, black women experienced an 7.5 percent drop in abortions, compared to the 6.7 percent encountered by white women.
Texas's House Bill 2 (HB2) placed multiple harsh restrictions on abortion providers operating within the state. It required the doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and for facilities to meet the same standards of ambulatory surgical centers. In all, the law would have required all but nine or ten abortion clinics in the state to close.
At the time, lawmakers cloaked their efforts in a veneer of concern for the safety of women having abortions in the state. In reality, it was a "sham" designed to preclude women from having the safe, legal abortions they needed. The law was eventually overturned in June 2016 after the Supreme Court determined that it placed an "undue burden" on abortion access, and therefore violated the Constitution.
Although disturbing, the data is by no means unexpected. Whenever regressive social policies are introduced, it's the poorest and most disenfranchised who suffer the most: whether it's increasing student tuition costs or archaic abortion policies rooted in polemic masquerading as medical fact. Abortion access advocate Clare Murphy, from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, knows this only too well.
"Poorer women are always disproportionately affected by restrictions on abortion," she explains. "They are less likely to be able to afford the time off work to travel long distances and foot the bill for accommodation and childcare, and that's before the cost of the treatment itself."
Another danger is that women resort to desperate measures to secure the abortions they need. "More women are likely to turn online for abortion medication or obtain it on the black market. Restricting abortions doesn't stop women having them, it just means they find alternative ways to end their pregnancies without the advice and support that you'd want all women to have."
In particular, Hispanic women in the low-income area of the Rio Grande Valley were effectively denied affordable abortion access altogether. Whole Women's Health—the only abortion provider in the area—was closed for most of 2014. It was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, disputing HB2 on behalf of the 2.5 million Latina women of childbearing age in the state.
Jessica Gonzaléz-Rojas of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health told Broadly over email that the new data confirmed what they'd heard anecdotally from Hispanic women across Texas. "[It] shows not only that the drop in the number of safe, legal abortions provided was clearly linked to the elimination of access but also, and most especially, that the elimination of clinics disproportionately impacted Latinas.
"The data shows exactly why the Supreme Court struck down the provisions of HB2: because they are harmful to women and their families."
In Hidalgo County—where 33.5 percent of the population, and 45.7 percent of children live in poverty—Hispanic women had 60 percent fewer abortions in 2014 than in the year previously. By June 2014, women living in Hidalgo County would have had to drive nearly 180 miles to the nearest abortion provider in neighboring San Antonio: a journey beyond the reach of many women, for financial and practical considerations.
Gonzaléz-Rojas explains the lengths some women will have gone to in order to access abortion care. ""In our amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, we documented countless stories of Latinas who were forced to take predatory payday loans for quick access to funds to pay for the procedure, gas and travel." She goes on, "We heard from Latinas who had to risk their employment to take multiple days off for the mandatory delays/waiting period and multi-hour trips they had to take because the clinics in their community were shut down."
For the women of Hidalgo County—and all women who found themselves unexpectedly pregnant in the period HB2 was operational—2014 was the year where their rights to make life-altering decisions about their own bodies was fundamentally compromised. As Gonzaléz-Rojas explains: "[While] we're thrilled the Supreme Court struck down this sham law, [today's data is] a sad reminder of all the work we have ahead of us to undo."