As the Supreme Court prepares to hear opening arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt next month—the most significant abortion-related case to go before the court in about two decades—a network of 12 black women’s reproductive-justice organizations are speaking out against Texas’ HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill at the heart of the case.
According to an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court by In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, HB2 exacerbates the systemic barriers to accessing abortion and reproductive care already faced by black women. First, African Americans are the least likely to have access to comprehensive sex education and contraception, resulting in higher rates of unintended pregnancy. They are also more likely to suffer and die from pregnancy-related complications at four times the rate of white women.
Moreover, they are more likely to be uninsured, relying solely on clinics to provide a wide spectrum of services. Because HB2 has caused the shutdown of all but a handful of clinics in the state since its enactment in 2013, black women now have fewer options than ever for accessing reproductive care.
From the brief:
It is a clear that a significant number of African American women will be unable to overcome the barriers imposed by the challenged HB2 provisions outright and thereby will be ‘deter[red] from procuring an abortion as surely as if [Texas] had outlawed abortion in all cases.’
HB2 is a dangerous set of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws that imposes unreasonable and medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics, including requirements to upgrade facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center standards (which can cost $1 million or more) and demanding doctors obtain admitting privileges from nearby hospitals. HB2 also limits access to medication abortion, forcing women to schedule an in-person consultation with the doctor dispensing the mifepristone-misoprostol regimen and implicitly banning abortion by telemedicine. Plus, HB2 bans abortions after 20 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest.
As predicted, the impact of HB2 on Texas women in need of critical reproductive care has been disastrous. With fewer than 20 clinics now serving hundreds of thousands of women, wait times as long as 20 days to schedule an initial consultation are not only common—they’re expected. But that’s assuming women can even get to the clinic. With only 19 abortion providers operating statewide, most women must embark on a long, costly quest to the clinic, often requiring them to arrange for days off work and overnight accommodations to honor their appointments. And, because sweeping clinic closures reduce access to all reproductive services, women’s access to basic sexual health services such as contraception, STD testing and cancer screenings is also greatly reduced.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, a November 2015 study conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation project found at least 100,000 Texas women between the ages of 18-49 have attempted to self-induce abortion, highlighting the dangerous and potentially fatal lengths women in the state are willing to to go to in order to exercise a basic human right.
“Politicians who pass these types of laws do not care about the health and wellbeing of women. They are only interested in stopping access to abortions,” said Marcela Howell, executive director of In Our Own Voice. “We hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will see right through this sham and uphold our constitutional right to access all reproductive healthcare services, including abortion care.”
For Howell, HB2 is just another obstacle standing in the way of 725,000 black women of reproductive age living in Texas accessing quality healthcare.
“The law’s practical effect,” she said, “is barring black women in Texas from exercising their legal right to an abortion.”
Graphic courtesy of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project