Words by Elsa Cavazos, edited by Freddy Jimenez
Access to abortions in Texas has been available since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right to abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, a decision which changed the country completely. However, in the last few years, the state of Texas has made other kinds of changes that undercut the right to have an abortion. Most recently, implementing stricter laws limiting the access to abortion and making it almost impossible. The South Texas region in particular is tremendously affected by these strict restrictions.
The Rio Grande Valley is home to the only abortion clinic between Mexico City, Mexico and San Antonio, Texas. This means people where there is not an accessible clinic, must travel to McAllen, where the clinic is located, while also making sure they have enough funds and other necessities covered to get their needed procedure.
Between January 1, 2011 and July 1, 2019, states enacted 483 new abortion restrictions. Some of the most common state-level abortion restrictions are parental notification or consent requirements for minors, limitations on public funding, mandated waiting periods before an abortion, and unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations on abortion facilities. Because of these rules and regulations, abortion providers face added difficulties when offering their services without getting in trouble with the law, serving as discouragement for people hoping to get one.
In the month of May, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 8. The measure would prohibit abortions in the state as early as six weeks and at the same time gives the opportunity for ordinary citizens to sue abortion providers and others involved. The bill is the first of its kind when it comes to strict restrictions, and though abortion providers and advocates of reproductive rights fear the repercussions, they have made it known the battle is not over, it has only begun.
Leen Garza, 24, is a board member for Frontera Fund in the Rio Grande Valley where she has been working in promoting reproduction rights for a few years now. Garza describes SB8 as devastating for any client seeking support in their abortion.
“They are going to have to travel out from their region, and considering how many people we have, and how many of them are undocumented, it makes it harder for people with no documentation to receive simple healthcare. It puts people who need support in a very dangerous situation in trying to make sure they are able to take care of themselves,” Garza said.
“As people from the region, we know how expensive and inaccessible traveling is for many people and taking a bus or flying out is really daunting, it isn’t something everyone can access here,” she continued, “It puts us in a special situation where we are going to have to fundraise and budget ourselves to support as many people as we can.”
The Rio Grande Valley is known for being a low income area which makes traveling and funding forefront issues for abortion access. Yet, with the option of private citizens to sue abortion providers, it has now added an array of worries besides the former two.
“Everyone should feel safe in receiving care and not have to look over their shoulders and watch their every move when it comes to seeking help. It is sad and devastating and disheartening to have to navigate the world in getting an abortion in Texas,” Garza said. “The bill is putting many people in danger for simply seeking an abortion.”
Garza fears how far anti-abortion extremists could go.
“They might have a database on people working on abortion advocacy and are looking to see who would be easiest to target. We know conservatives and the far right do have some sort of databases keeping tabs on activists, and that is one fear I have,” she said, “That they will start stalking activists and us in abortion funds for being so outspoken and making sure people are getting the help they need.”
Garza said extremists have been known to stalk homes and families. Not only could someone be stalked for attempting to help someone get an abortion, but after the bill is official on September 1, activists could possibly have to face lawsuits as well.
“They don’t care about the kind of harm they are doing because they think it is in their moral high ground, when in reality there is no ethics in what they do,” she said.
According to Garza, the possibility of the bill being overturned is not likely in the next few months but she said the bill will be challenged by other organizations. Once it is challenged it could get stopped in the process of becoming a law but it is something to look out for now.
“We are not gonna go down without a fight because we know how important it is to give people access to care,” she expressed. “It is a matter of community, we can’t continue letting things happen like SB8. People need to support our local abortion clinic, Frontera Fund, and the work reproductive justice organizers are trying to do. Let’s make sure the Rio Grande Valley will be vocal about the amount of harm SB8 will make, abortion is healthcare and needed. They are still going to be around even if they become illegal to the eyes of the state,” Garza said.
Cathryn Torres, 25, who is also on the board of directors at Frontera Fund, said she imagines the organization will be funding transportation in addition to abortion costs in places like New Mexico, or Colorado, or anywhere else that doesn’t have the restrictions Texas will now have.
Frontera Fund has been active since 2015 and Torres has been a board member for more than a year but has volunteered for five years. She is worried about being a part of an organization which could be sued by anyone with SB8, but it won’t stop her or the organization from doing its work.
“No one wants to be sued for doing something so arbitrary, helping people get healthcare; it is something in our radar but we are resilient, and unfortunately, we are used to this type of fight, but no matter what we are still going to be doing what we are doing,” she said.
Torres confirmed this new bill will affect greatly the area of the Rio Grande Valley, not only because it had already been difficult to make abortion accessible, but because of the large population.
“We are a hub of more than one million people, and there is only one clinic. Add a six week ban to that, add frivolous lawsuits to that, it is nearly a total ban because of all the additional things people need to worry about,” elaborates Torres.
Abortion continues to be legal in the state of Texas, which Torres wanted to emphasize, adding that a lot of the language around bills like SB8 are created to make people believe it is not legal. “It is not true. Abortion is still legal,” she affirms.
Torres encourages people in any restrictive areas, to reach out to their local abortion fund at the National Network Of Abortion Funds website, while in the Rio Grande Valley, Frontera Fund is here to help.
“We are here to help as much as we absolutely can. Don’t let these jerks freak you out and scare you, that is what they are trying to do. We are here to help, sincerely,” says Torres.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder & CEO of Whole Women’s Health, said this new law adds new restrictions and causes confusion for people needing abortion care in the Rio Grande Valley – making people worry abortion is no longer legal in Texas and clinics are closed.
“It is layered on top of an already treacherous scheme of barriers and delays folks must navigate to access abortion care in South Texas. More specifically, Senate Bill 8 is a harmful and extreme six-week abortion ban that is the first of its kind in the country,” explains Miller.
“It bans abortion before most people even know they are pregnant and will impact on our ability to provide care to patients in the Rio Grande Valley. Ninety percent (90%) of our patients have abortions after six-weeks. This law creates an impossible timeline for people to learn they may be pregnant and quickly decide if having an abortion is what is best for them, their families, and their futures.”
Karen Blanco, 26, a mother of a six-year-old, said she did not find out she was pregnant at 16 until two months later, or eight weeks. She never had a regular menstrual cycle, which made it difficult for her to know beforehand she was pregnant. Blanco is a resident of Mission, and had a sporadic abortion in her bathroom using pills her boyfriend at the time purchased for her in Mexico. “I think this law is ridiculous. It was almost impossible for me to know I was pregnant at six weeks,” she said.
Kimberly Castañeda, 25, had an abortion a few years ago at Whole Women’s Health in McAllen. She shared that if SB8 had been created when she had been pregnant, she would probably have a child right now. “It is annoying and disrespectful of men politicians to be deciding, if that had happened years ago, I would be struggling now, because it is a struggle to have a child,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s fair for someone to carry a child because they did not know at six weeks. That is not enough time to make a decision and to find out if you are pregnant,” said Castaneda, who found out she was pregnant at four weeks but had to wait another to get her procedure done.
Miller added that the new setbacks people have to face are criminal penalties and fines.
“Unfortunately, this law gives the anti-abortion folks another tool, and a scary tool. They will use this tool to continue their disruption, terrorism, harassment, and surveillance of abortion providers and of people who help people get access to abortion services,” Miller said.
“We are talking about physicians, clinic staff, and anybody who helps somebody get access to an abortion, like, the Uber driver who brings the patient to the clinic, the doctor who refers to Whole Woman’s Health from a different medical practice, somebody’s faith leader who they may go to for advice, an abortion fund who might help somebody pay for their abortion. This law is extreme and does not represent the values of most Texans,” she said.
Ironically, Miller further explained, that the law SB8, does nothing to reduce the need for abortion, as well as doing nothing to help people facing an unplanned pregnancy.
“It creates an unprecedented ‘private cause of action’ that would allow anyone – even people living outside of Texas or people who do not know the patient – to sue Texas people for providing abortion care or helping a person obtain an abortion,” Miller emphasized.
In 2016 Whole Woman’s Health won at the Supreme Court a victory against Texas.
Miller said Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen will not sit idly by and allow people to block access.
“We will not let that happen to us or to our allies who help us help our patients. Our clinic is open now and it will remain open. We will work to block this law from going into effect before September 1, and from there continue to challenge all the ways the anti-abortion movement may try to make use of this law from there. We are from this community – our staff live here and raise their families here, too – we know Texans deserve better than this,” she said.
Miller said the best ways to take action against the bill and help are by speaking out, supporting and donating.
“Speak out that this bill does not represent your values. Do not assume, speak up. Support our local clinic – send them a postcard to thank them for their work, send them food or chocolates or flowers,” she said. “Donate to Whole Woman’s Health Alliance to support our legal work challenging this law, donate to the Stigma Relief Fund – an abortion fund that helps women in need who do not have health insurance – pay for their abortion care at Whole Woman’s Health.”
Most importantly, however, Miller emphasized that abortion is still legal in Texas.
“This law does not go into effect until September 1 and is clearly unconstitutional. Whole Woman’s Health is prepared to do whatever it takes to continue to provide compassionate and professional abortion care in the Rio Grande Valley.”
On June 15, about a month after Abbott signed SB8, the Edinburg City Council shared support behind a proclamation declaring June 27 as “Prolife Apostolate Day.” The effort was pushed by Holy Family Prolife Apostolate, a group with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville.
“As they were reading the proclamation, Mayor Richard Molina and the city councilmen said they 100% supported the efforts of the Holy Family Prolife Apostolate to declare Edinburg an anti-abortion city,” reported The Monitor, adding that there are no women on the council.
Mayor Molina went on to say “You do have my commitment you will get this done.”
“We’ve got to push it forward,” said Councilman David White.
Jorge Salina, Mayor Pro-Tem, said, “My hat’s off to you all and your vigor in getting out and being proponents for this. I support this 100%.”
Councilmember Johnny Garcia explained he has personally heard the group’s stories, working with the state on banning abortions, and even traveled to the state capitol to “defend unborn children,” and later refered to the city council as “spiritual leaders of our community.”
In an effort to attain clarity behind their comments, The Monitor reached out to the councilmen but to no avail. However, Director of Communications & Media Ashly Custer told the news agency that the item was placed on the agenda at the request of the council itself.
The move comes after Lubbock’s own abortion ban went into effect on June 1, and after Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on June 16 House Bill 1280, a measure that would outlaw abortion in Texas due to a court ruling or constitutional amendment. That signature comes after the United States Supreme Court opted to hear a Mississippi abortion law, which could alter Roe v. Wade.
Whole Woman’s Health can be contacted by phone at (956) 686-2137 or by visiting their website found here.
Frontera Fund can be reached at their website found here.