What's next for abortion rights in Texas

A sign hangs outside the Whole Woman's Health clinic in northeast Austin on June 27, 2016, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down potions of HB 2 restricting access to abortion providers in Texas. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Earlier this summer, we Texans found ourselves at the center of the biggest abortion rights victory in decades when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas' clinic shutdown law, House Bill 2. It was an unforgettable day: Many of us had been fighting since before Wendy Davis' famous filibuster to block this law, and we saw firsthand the devastating harm when it forced the closure of more than half of our state's abortion clinics.

On June 27 we embraced our community in Texas and celebrated with people from around the country. In striking down HB 2, the Supreme Court affirmed that people seeking abortion in Texas should be able to get abortion care with respect and dignity and without needless barriers.

Yet our work to fully realize that vision is far from over. While HB 2 is gone, one of the harshest barriers to abortion access for Texans remains. The Hyde Amendment, a federal policy passed each year by Congress as part of the budget process, bans coverage for abortion services for people enrolled in Medicaid.

For a low-income Texan, the Hyde Amendment is why they are forced to struggle to pay out of pocket for reproductive health care that should be covered by insurance. In other words, striking down HB 2 means that Texas clinics can stay open, but Hyde prevents many from being able to afford care at those same clinics.

The impact of Hyde and other bans on abortion coverage for Texas families is heartbreaking, especially for those who already face so many other barriers to getting health care. It's even more frustrating when you consider that in 2011, Texas politicians defunded our state family planning program, which left thousands of people without access to contraception and put them at a greater risk of unintended pregnancy. Those budget cuts mean that low-income people need greater access to reproductive health care, not less — a particularly dire situation for immigrants and people of color across the state, who are more likely to have low incomes.

For some, Hyde means being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy — in fact, 1 in 4 poor women seeking abortion nationally will ultimately be unable to get abortion care. And a woman who tries to get an abortion but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than one who is able to end her pregnancy.

In the state of Texas, where some 6 million adults and children are already living in poverty, we can ill afford a policy that makes difficult circumstances even worse.

At the Lilith Fund, one of 70 abortion funds across 38 states, we receive more than 4,000 hotline calls a year from Texans who are struggling to pay for an abortion, most of whom are low-income women of color, and two-thirds of whom are mothers. We try to help as many as we can, but the sad fact is that there is always more need than we can meet. Our work will never replace what is truly needed: an end to the bans that deny abortion coverage.

In addition to providing financial support for our clients, we're also working to shift the way people think and talk about abortion in Texas. It is not enough for abortion to be legal, or even affordable — we must end the cultural stigma that creates shame and silence, that makes it difficult or even impossible for people to speak openly about their experiences with abortion.

Sept. 30 marks the 40th year of the Hyde Amendment, and that's 40 years too many. We're proud Texans, and prouder still that Texans fought and won the ability to keep our clinics open. But right now, not all can share in that victory. Right now, people who are already struggling are being denied the ability to make their own decisions about abortion.

Because of this injustice, we are doing everything we can to ensure all people, regardless of income or access to health insurance, can make the reproductive health care decisions that are best for them. That's exactly why we're fighting back, and why we're joining activists and community leaders from across the country for the first-ever United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action — including an event in Austin today. This growing coalition of community leaders, lawmakers, and organizations, including the Lilith Fund, is calling for the end of the Hyde Amendment and similar policies that deny abortion coverage. We are sharing client stories with our elected officials, we are working with partners in Houston and across Texas, and we are mobilizing communities most impacted by the Hyde Amendment — our clients included — to demand an end to coverage bans.

Some will say that the Hyde Amendment has been around for so long, so we shouldn't bother trying to change it. Some will say that what we seek to do is too hard, or even impossible. But as Texans, we know a thing or two about impossible odds. We also know a thing or two about joining together to beat those odds — because we know that when we are united in service of justice, nothing can stand in our way.

Amanda Williams

Executive director, Lilith Fund

Laila Khalili

Board member, Lilith Fund

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