One lesson from Texas: legal abortion means nothing without access

June 28th, 2013

Categories: abortion restrictions, economic justice, Funds, Lilith Fund, Medicaid, Texas Equal Access Fund, unfair laws

By Eesha Pandit, Board Member of the National Network of Abortion Funds. A version of this originally appeared at RH Reality Check on June 27, 2013.

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 a person who can’t get to the clinic, the person who can’t speak the language spoken in the clinic, the person who doesn’t have enough money to pay for it, the person who doesn’t have the documentation required.

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis knows it. That’s why she stood for 12 hours in a dramatic filibuster on the floor of the Senate. State Senator Leticia Van De Putte knows it. That’s why she left her father’s funeral, drove 3 hours and arrived on the Senate floor to speak against Texas Senate Bill 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 special session to an end before a vote could be reached on the regressive bill that would make abortion inaccessible to millions of Texans.

The proposed legislation, SB 5, is an omnibus abortion bill that 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 a state of 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.

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, where no one else will, 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 are people who see firsthand what Dr. Diana Greene Foster found in her study at UCSF: poverty is a women’s health issue and policy changes are the solution.

So as the fight against SB 5 continues, with Texas Governor Rick Perry having just called a second special session to try and pass the bill, we know that Texas has its work cut out. As do we all. Not just to fight against abortion access, but on many fronts. In this moment, it is 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.

Pictured above: Activists at the Texas State Capitol awaiting word about the outcome of SB5 this week. Photo credit: Sara Peralta, via Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity.

Help us fight for access. Donate to the National Network of Abortion Funds so that no one is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy due to lack of resources.