This is such a simple concept that I can’t believe we still have to say it, but we do: The legal right to an abortion means nothing to the person who can’t get to a clinic, the person who can’t speak the language spoken in a clinic, the person who doesn’t have enough money to pay for an abortion, and the person who doesn’t have the required documentation.
Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) knows this; it’s why she stood for 11 hours on the floor of the senate as part of a dramatic filibuster. State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio) knows it too; it’s why she left her father’s funeral and drove three hours so she would arrive at the senate floor in time to speak against SB 5. Also in the know are the hundreds of people, men and women alike, who protested their hearts out for hours—and days—on end and ultimately were the ones who pushed the Texas legislature’s special session to end before a vote could be reached on the regressive bill that would make abortion inaccessible to millions of Texans.
The proposed legislation, referred to as SB 5 in the state senate, includes, among other things, a 20-week abortion ban and costly, medically unnecessary regulations that would close all but five clinics, in four cities, in the state, which is the largest in the continental United States and has a population of some 26 million people. As Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards noted, SB 5 would result in a “virtual ban” on safe abortion in Texas.
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We must remember that the fight against SB 5 is one that Texas—and states around the country—have been fighting for years. It is a fight that has been waged on many fronts, including legal challenges meant to provoke a challenge to Roe v. Wade and hundreds of bills introduced each year to make the legal right to an abortion effectively unavailable through the introduction of forced waiting periods, “fetal pain” bills, mandatory ultrasounds, attacks on Medicaid coverage, earlier bans, untenable physician and hospital requirements, parental involvement, and state mandated counseling. All of these restrictions amount to one thing: targeting the most vulnerable amongst us, including those who are poor, immigrants, women of color, LGBTQ individuals, undocumented people, young people, and people with disabilities.
In his recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “What Happens to Women Who Are Denied Abortions?”, Joshua Lang explores the findings of study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco on the barriers women face in getting timely abortion care. Lang notes that there are indeed many reasons women are turned away from abortion clinics, notably a lack of funds or if they are deemed obese, but concedes that “most simply arrive too late.” Mr. Lang’s article stops short of naming the deeper implications of these findings—namely that devastating poverty and inequity are the real barriers, not being overweight or ignorant of your body. This kind of inequity is what makes abortion effectively illegal for so many women, and what the battle on the floor of the Texas state senate was all about.
As a longtime member and supporter of abortion funds, I know what it is like to work day and night to raise money, in the face of bans on coverage by politicians, to help women get the abortions they seek. I have seen poor women and families face the heartbreaking challenge of raising the money for an abortion, only to have the price go up week by week, keeping it just out of reach—an excruciating phenomenon known as “chasing the fee.” My colleagues and I see firsthand what Dr. Diana Greene Foster found in her study: Poverty is a women’s health issue, and policy changes are the solution.
So as the fight against SB 5 continues, with Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry having just called a second special session to try and pass the bill, we know that Texans have their work cut out for them. As do we all—not just to fight for abortion access for all women, but on many fronts. In this moment, it’s crucial that we fight the narrow politics of the right with a big, broad-based politics of our own. It is crucial that we name the impact that these restrictions will have on vulnerable populations. It is crucial that we call for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal monies from covering abortion care. It is imperative that we call for the elimination of unnecessary waiting periods, bans, and restrictions.
Once again: Poverty is a women’s health issue, and policy changes are the solution. We must call for an end to abortion bans that deny women the ability to make the decision that’s best for them, just because they are poor. As we work to fight another day, it is our duty to call for the recognition that those who live in poverty deserve the same health-care access as those who do not.