News Abortion

Red River Women’s Clinic in North Dakota Reports Lowest Abortion Numbers in Ten Years

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice lawmakers and activists believe the drop is due to more women becoming educated about abortion and choosing to carry pregnancies to term, while reproductive rights advocates offer a different take: Harsh restrictions on access to abortion and reproductive health care have led to the decline.

The lone reproductive health-care clinic that provides abortion services in North Dakota will finish the year having provided the lowest number of abortions in the last decade. The Associated Press reports that the Red River Women’s Clinic expects to have performed a total of 1,125 abortions in 2013, which represents about a 15 percent decline from the 1,330 abortions that were performed at the clinic in 2012.

When the Red River Women’s Clinic opened in 1998, it was the second clinic to provide abortions in the state. In 2001, it became the state’s sole abortion provider.

Anti-choice lawmakers and activists claim the drop in the number of abortions is due to more women becoming educated about abortion and choosing to carry pregnancies to term. State Rep. Bette Grande told the AP, “Women are changing their hearts and minds.” But, reproductive rights advocates believe that harsh restrictions on access to abortion and reproductive health care have led to the decline.

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, told the AP that the abortion restrictions passed by the North Dakota legislature have led some women to believe that abortion is no longer legal in the state. “We’re definitely hearing from women that they thought we were closed and that abortion is illegal. Abortion is still legal in the state of North Dakota and we’re still here,” said Kromenaker.

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Earlier this year, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law HB 1456, which banned abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks’ gestation. According to the governor, the legislation was designed specifically as an “attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.” The law was blocked from taking effect by a federal judge in July, while the legal challenge to its constitutionality is ongoing.

Additionally, Dalrymple also signed HB 1305, which would ban so-called sex-selective abortions, and SB 2305, which requires doctors providing abortion services to receive admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. In September, the Red River Women’s Clinic requested that the lawsuit against HB 1305 be dropped due to the fact that the clinic did not feel it would have any direct impact. Like HB 1456, HB 1305 was also blocked by a federal court while the law’s constitutionality is challenged.

In addition to the bills signed this year, there are several other anti-choice laws that have been passed restricting women’s access to reproductive health care in the state. “I don’t think women’s circumstances and the reason they come to us have changed,” Kromenaker told the AP.

Analysis Violence

‘Sing Our Rivers Red’ March Casts New Light on Intergenerational Crisis

Mary Annette Pember

On February 23, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a $100 million, three-year strategy to begin inquiries into the roots of violence against Indigenous women. Grassroots groups are asking why the United States has not responded to this crisis by allocating more resources to investigate violent acts on its soil.

This is the first installment of a series published in partnership with Indian Country Today about the missing and murdered Native women in the United States and Canada. You can read the other pieces in the series here.

Valentine’s Day in Fargo, North Dakota, was cold this year: It was snowing and the wind blew sharply. A small group of about 12 to 14 Native American women and supporters, however, silently walked along a path under the Veterans Memorial Bridge and made their way up snow-covered stairs to the top of the bridge, where the cars pass by. Despite the biting cold, they stood quietly in prayer before sprinkling handfuls of tobacco into the icy waters of the Red River.

To the casual observer it was a humble ritual, held in a remote place. But many tribes believe that offering tobacco to the earth or water carries prayers to the Creator.

Valentine’s Day has become the official day for Native women to recognize and memorialize the missing and murdered women and girls whom they believe government leaders in the United States and Canada too often ignore. They began holding an annual march in 1992, after an Indigenous woman was found murdered and dismembered in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood.

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For Native communities, the border between the United States and Canada is nonexistent; many tribal communities, including Blackfeet, Ojibwe, and Mohawk, straddle the border and have members in both the United States and Canada. They are asking why only Canadian officials have begun exploring violence against Native women.

Canadian Indigenous women’s groups began calling attention to the high rates of missing and murdered women and girls in the 1990s, when Indigenous women and girls started going missing along the now-dubbed Highway of Tears, a 450-mile length of the Yellowhead Highway 16 in British Columbia. Between 1989 and 2006, nine women were found murdered or went missing along the highway, which passes through and near about a dozen small First Nations communities.

Many Indigenous people believe that the number is actually much higher: Indigenous people often resort to hitchhiking along the remote highway that has little public transportation.

The infamous Pickton case, in which Robert William Pickton of British Columbia was convicted of six murders, though he has been accused of killing some 49 women by many in the community, brought international attention to the high rates of violence against Indigenous women in Canada. Many of Pickton’s victims were Indigenous women who frequented Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a neighborhood known for drugs and sex work. Although the murders began in the 1990s, Pickton was not arrested until 2002.

The Pickton case, as well as the Highway of Tears murders, were pivotal in inspiring Indigenous women’s grassroots groups to organize in calling attention to what they maintain has been a longstanding trend by Canadian law enforcement to overlook violence against Indigenous women.

In 2006, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) began painstakingly creating a government-funded database of missing and murdered Indigenous women. A 2010 report from the Sisters in Spirit initiative made clear that there was a direct connection between Canada’s violent colonial past and targeted violence against Indigenous women. It also suggested that nearly 600 Indigenous women had gone missing or were murdered in the preceding 30 years.

Although Indigenous women make up 4 percent of Canada’s female population, they comprise 16 percent of the women murdered in the country. They are also three times more likely to report experiencing violence than other groups, according to a 2014 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview.

According to the RCMP report, there were approximately 1,200 Indigenous women who were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012.

Organizations such as Amnesty International Canada, however, dispute these numbers and speculate that they may in fact be much higher.

Indigenous women’s organizations such as the NWAC confronted the Canadian government with the data. For years, lawmakers resisted calls for a national inquiry into the situation. In December 2015, however, shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election, the government announced that it would proceed with a formal inquiry.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced that the inquiry would begin with consultations with families of missing and murdered women, tribes, and grassroots Indigenous organizations. On February 23, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a $100 million, three-year strategy to begin inquiries into the roots of violence against Indigenous women.

Native American women note that there are many similarities between the United States and Canada when it comes to the ways in which Indigenous women have experienced violence.

Take Rita Burnette, for example. In 2002, the 14-year-old was killed by her then-21-year-old cousin, Kevin Brown Jr. Brown pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, “stating he beat Rita Burnette with his fists until she was unconscious and then left her in a wooded area near Naytahwaush” in Minnesota, according to local reports. Burnette’s murder, which was similar to the many Indigenous girls murdered in Canada, was one of the stories included in a display coordinated by the “Sing Our Rivers Red” project in February.

Native women in the United States have the highest rates of sexual assault in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. This is two-and-a-half times the national rate for other women.

And yet, the United States has not responded to this crisis by allocating more resources to investigate the roots of these violent incidents.

“If the U.S. had the same political and economic will as Canada to explore not only our rate of sexual assault but also our numbers of missing and murdered women, I think they might find them to be quite similar,” Lisa Brunner told Rewire. Brunner, White Earth Ojibwe, runs the Spirit First Nations Coalition that provides outreach and education about sexual violence to teenagers on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. She was one of the coordinators of the Valentine’s Day march in Fargo.

Brunner vividly recalled a conversation with a teen girl on the reservation in which the teen noted that she had already discussed with her mother what they would do when she is raped. “We decided not to report it because nothing will happen and it would only make it worse,” according to Brunner.

“She didn’t say ‘if,’ she said ‘when.’ I will remember that as long as I live,” Brunner said.

Analysis Human Rights

For Undocumented Women in Texas, HB 2 Is ‘Life or Death’

Tina Vasquez

A lot has been written about how Texas' reproductive health-care restrictions codified into law in 2013 disproportionately hit low-income women of color and Latinas in particular. What's not been covered by the media, or covered enough, is how HB 2 affects undocumented people.

Read more of our coverage of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt here.

It has been almost three years since abortion providers filed their first challenge to Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law. As we approach March 2, the day the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments for and against Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a lot has been written about how the reproductive health-care restrictions codified into law in 2013 disproportionately hit low-income women of color and Latinas in particular. What’s not been covered by the media, or covered enough, is how HB 2 affects undocumented people.

HB 2 contains multiple abortion restrictions, including a 20-week abortion ban, but on Wednesday the Supreme Court will specifically hear arguments on the regulations requiring abortion providers to be affiliated with nearby hospitals and limiting abortion care to ambulatory surgical centers. The implications of the case are much larger, however. As Rewire has reported, what’s at stake in the case is not just the future of abortion access in Texas, but the impact the Court’s decision will have on clinic shutdown restrictions in states nationwide.

While a person’s citizenship status affects her ability to access health care throughout the United States, this is especially true in Texas, which has the second-highest undocumented population in the country and some of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant laws.

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There are roughly 1.5 million undocumented residents in the state of Texas, 78 percent of whom emigrated from Mexico. Despite concerns from politicians that the undocumented population is growing in the state, as the Texas Tribune reported, the Migration Policy Institute found that it has remained relatively unchanged in recent years, with more than half of the state’s undocumented immigrants having lived in Texas for more than a decade.

As Texas’ undocumented population remains fixed in place, the state legislature has fought to deny this group basic human rights, whether it’s by challenging an Obama administration executive action designed to expand temporary protection from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants—effectively stopping Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) in its tracks—or pushing to have the state’s family detention centers licensed as child-care facilities with reduced standards. The state’s enactment of HB 2 is yet another example of the way it has targeted one of the country’s most vulnerable communities.

As the Center for Reproductive Rights reported, it is the 2.5 million Latinas of reproductive age in Texas that are disproportionately affected by HB 2, which has closed more than half of the state’s clinics, most of them in predominately Latino areas. Though it’s unclear what percentage of those Latinas are undocumented, what is known is that immigrant women already experience significant barriers when trying to access sexual and reproductive health care and HB 2 only made things worse.

Ana Rodriguez DeFrates is on the front lines of the reproductive rights battle as the Texas Latina Advocacy Network state policy and advocacy director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), one of more than 40 organizations that filed an amicus brief in Whole Woman’s Health. DeFrates says that “without question,” those most affected by HB 2 are the people already adversely affected by current health-care practices and immigration laws.

“We’re a reproductive [justice] organization in Texas and we see every day that it’s the same population of people most impacted that are not invited to the conversation about the policies that impact them,” DeFrates told Rewire. “I can say that ignoring the implications of immigration status [whether a person is a citizen or undocumented] when it comes to accessing health care—especially sexual and reproductive health care—would be to paint a very inaccurate and incomplete picture of what is happening in Texas.”

Since HB 2 went into effect, the southernmost region of Texas—the Rio Grande Valley—has lost all but one abortion clinic, Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen. If the remaining clinic in the Rio Grande Valley were to shut down, the only option would be driving north to San Antonio to the nearest abortion provider, but that’s not really an option if you’re undocumented. Transportation and immigration checkpoints are just two of the hurdles undocumented people must clear under HB 2.

“There are internal immigration checkpoints that exist upwards of 100 miles north of the actual Texas/Mexico border,” DeFrates told Rewire. “If you’re undocumented, you simply couldn’t get to the heart of the state where abortion access is available. And even then, we’re assuming you can take the time off work it would require for the multiple days it now requires because of increased restrictions that now mandate increased office visits and increased wait times.”

“We’re also assuming … that you have the money and means available to travel that distance and that you have child care available to you. It assumes a lot. You cannot separate immigration from HB 2 or bigger conversations surrounding health care. They are operating together and impacting lives together,” DeFrates said.

Advocates in Texas working for organizations like NLIRH are doing more than fighting for access to abortion; they are fighting strong anti-immigrant sentiments. In the state, unions representing Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) work with anti-immigrant groups to undermine immigration policies and promote anti-immigrant views. As the Texas Medical Association reported, legislation from 1986 to 2013 has made it increasingly difficult for undocumented people with chronic illnesses to receive safe and affordable care, forcing them to rely on costly emergency rooms, often after their condition has worsened. Whether Texas legislators set out to target low-income people of color cannot be confirmed, but advocates say intent hardly matters when vulnerable people are suffering.

A few months ago, organizers at NLIRH met a woman who would have to walk 45 minutes from her colonia to the nearest bus stop.

“That is a long walk and she is scared to make that walk because of the increasing number of law enforcement she encounters,” DeFrates said. “She’s scared because she’s undocumented, but she needs to get to that bus because that’s her only way to her health-care appointment.”

The woman told NLIRH organizers that she would rather live with the pain in her abdomen than risk deportation or separation from her family. The woman’s circumstances and concerns call to mind Blanca Borrego, the undocumented mother of three arrested this past September when seeking treatment for a cyst that was causing abdominal pain at Texas’ Memorial Hermann Medical Group Northeast Women’s Healthcare clinic.

The staff member who called the authorities on Borrego because she provided the staff with a fake driver’s license said they were simply “enforcing the law,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Situations like this could be avoided if, like the State of California for example, Texas issued driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Instead, Texas is arguing that President Obama’s deferred action executive order would cause the state to “incur significant costs in issuing driver’s licenses to DAPA beneficiaries.” If an injunction had not been placed on DAPA, Borrego would have been eligible for deferred action.

According to Texas’ attorneys, subsidizing licenses for DAPA beneficiaries would cause the state to lose a minimum of $130.89 on each license issued. But a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that with full implementation of DAPA and Obama’s other executive actions, Texas could see returns of nearly $59 million.

Even before HB 2, things were bad for Latinas and undocumented women, who had few places to turn for contraception and other preventive reproductive health services after 2011 when Texas gutted the public family planning program. Texas invested $50 million in a new program that combines family planning with other health services, like diabetes screening; Planned Parenthood, however, was not allowed to participate. The Center for Reproductive Justice reports that Latinas have far fewer options for controlling their reproduction and are two times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than their white counterparts.

“At best, these policies are ignorant. At worst, they are attacks on our communities,” DeFrates said. “When you look at how many Latinas are dying of cervical cancer, when you look at how many clinic closures occurred as a result of the 2011 budget cuts in Texas where two-thirds of family planning was slashed, when you look at where these communities are and who inhabits them, when it seems no one is considering the needs of low-income people of color, one has to question whether these policies are rooted in racism.”

The majority of cervical cancers are preventable, yet Latinas continue to die without adequate testing and care; they have the highest incidence of cervical cancer among all ethnic or racial groups and the second highest mortality rate. As NBC Latino reported, the situation is even worse for Latinas in Texas, whose rates are 19 percent higher than the national average and 11 percent higher than the national average for Latinas.

“There is no reason in this day and age why you should be dying from this, yet Latinas in Texas are dying at a higher rate than other people. What did the Texas legislature do in response? Instead of ensuring that not one more woman died from this very preventable disease, it cut the number of providers that can participate in the cervical cancer screening program. That directly impacts Latinas and makes it harder for undocumented women to access preventive care, and we told them that. We told them that through organizing, through public testimony at the capitol, yet they moved forward with it,” DeFrates said.

As March 2 approaches, advocates like DeFrates are trying to remain hopeful that the Court will recognize the overarching implications of HB 2 and the ways in which the law puts already vulnerable communities at greater risk. The recent normalizing of anti-immigrant sentiments espoused by those seeking the highest public office—the presidency—can understandably make it hard to remain positive, but DeFrates says it’s imperative to continue fighting.

“For us in Texas, this isn’t a short-term issue. It’s not about one case or an election or whether or not we’re in legislative session,” DeFrates said. “It’s a long-term fight. We’re going to continue centering the lives of those directly impacted because bad things happen when the voices of those most impacted aren’t heard. In Texas, this is really life or death.”