The Texas Legislature’s current special session feels like déjà vu — reminiscent of the special session called to pass the notorious and now struck-down House Bill 2 abortion restriction bill after Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster. Indeed, the Legislature seems intent on repeating history.
It’s hard to believe that the Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was only a year ago — a pivotal victory for the reproductive justice movement and long-awaited recognition from the courts that anti-abortion laws such as Texas’ HB 2 place an undue burden on individuals seeking abortion care. Laws like that one have nothing to do with protecting anyone’s dignity or safety; on the contrary, they shut down clinics and deny individuals needed care.
As a Latina and a Texan, I was overwhelmed with emotion when the ruling came down — as were many in my community. Vindication, validation, relief. Finally, an official verdict that legally documented the real-life struggles of accessing reproductive healthcare in Texas, and the predatory and prejudiced nature of laws that shut down abortion clinics. The ruling inspired hope that if our voices and our stories could be recognized at the federal level, states would have to adhere to that authority and finally stop attacking reproductive care.
Unfortunately, as the state legislative sessions of 2017 illustrate, attacks on access to sexual and reproductive healthcare continued across the country despite the landmark ruling. In the revolution for reproductive justice, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt represents a well-deserved but incomplete victory.
When the Whole Woman’s Health ruling was announced, I was preparing to begin nursing school. As a young Tejana, my only experience with healthcare was as a patient and patient advocate for my grandparents. Fueled by the racism and sexism we repeatedly encountered, I was propelled to pursue education so that I could help people like my grandparents and others in my community for whom medical care was so difficult to navigate. I was further determined because Texas continues to deny healthcare to its entire population, and it is disproportionately individuals like myself and my loved ones — the brown, the queer, the undocumented, and the poor — who bear the brunt of this political neglect.
After Texas passed HB 2, the law at the center of Whole Woman’s Health, access to abortion care was devastated in our state as clinics across Texas were forced to close. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision did not reverse this consequence. In fact, a year later, fewer than half of the clinics that closed in the wake of HB 2 have been able to reopen. Mandatory delays, forced ultrasounds and state-sponsored misinformation pamphlets mean that accessing an abortion in Texas is as costly as ever, and it’s not as though clinics can re-open overnight.
Living under the anti-abortion, anti-reproductive and sexual healthcare policies in Texas is enough to know that these policies are not working. In fact, they are dangerous. Texas ranks disastrously low in nearly every measure of sexual and reproductive health and human rights. Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the United States. We also remain the state with the highest rate of uninsured individuals in the US. More than half of all pregnancies in Texas are unintended.
Officials need to realize: This is not normal. We are experiencing a reproductive health crisis.
Unfortunately, lawmakers seem unable to make the connection between poor health outcomes for Texans and lack of access to quality sexual and reproductive healthcare. They have yet to restore inclusion of Planned Parenthood to the Healthy Texas Women’s Program. More than 50 percent of all births in Texas are insured through the Medicaid program. For individuals without insurance, CHIP and Medicaid are often the only ways to access any sort of reproductive healthcare, from contraception to prenatal care. But even these forms of coverage are severely flawed.
Texans are living the devastating consequences of politicians’ interference with our decisions, but these lawmakers continue to propose and pass bills that make things even worse. Just this session, they passed legislation which criminalizes a safe abortion method and mandates pregnancy-related tissue burial or cremation.
And now in the special session they are considering legislation that would ban insurance coverage for abortion in the entire state.
These bills are not about protecting Texans; they’re about making access to legal abortion so burdensome that individuals are forced to carry to term dangerous and/or unintended pregnancies. Texas is not unique in trampling abortion care access; Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas have all recently proposed or passed nearly identical anti-choice bills.
In the chilling reality of these brazen attacks on our bodies and lives, it’s easy to become discouraged, but I refuse to give up.
One year after the biggest victory for abortion rights in my lifetime, I am completing my nursing education, and I’m excited for my future providing quality, compassionate care. I am eager to support patients. But, I know that it isn’t enough to have great providers, we need politicians to stop interfering with Texans’ health care decisions so that providers can live up to our charge of ensuring that all in our communities get the care they need.