Monday’s Supreme Court decision to strike down a controversial Texas law that regulated abortion clinics may make it easier for millions of women - especially Latinas - to access safe abortions.
The justices voted 5-3 in favor of Texas clinics that had argued the law was only a veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get abortions in the nation's second-most populous state. More than 46% of all Texas women of childbearing age are Hispanic.
Latina women experience unintended pregnancy at twice the rate white women do, according to data from the Center for American Progress.
“As an abortion provider, a mother and a Latina living in Texas, I’m relieved that these barriers can at last be lifted,” said Andrea Ferrigno, the corporate vice president of Whole Woman’s Health, which offers abortion and other reproductive healthcare to women in Texas and across the country. “This law shut down our clinics and forced women across Texas to make multiple and unnecessary visits at far away clinics, take unpaid time off work, find childcare, and arrange and pay for transportation for hundreds of miles.”
Texas had argued that its 2013 law and subsequent regulations were needed to protect women's health. The rules required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.
Abortion providers said the rules, if upheld and allowed to take full effect, would have cut the number of abortion clinics in Texas by three-fourths.
If the Supreme Court had upheld the controversial law, women in the predominantly Latino, rural Rio Grande Valley in Texas would have had to drive 200 miles through various immigration checkpoints to get to a clinic in San Antonio. That clinic now has wait times of up to 20 days for an appointment.
"Forcing women to travel hundreds of miles and to wait for weeks for an available appointment does not in any way protect their health and safety,” RaeAnn Roca Pickett of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health told Univision News. “We hear from women who are selling possessions, taking out payday loans, and who risk losing their jobs when they try to access their constitutional right to abortion care.”
When then-Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2013, there were about 40 clinics throughout the state. That number dropped to under 20 and would have been cut in half again if the law had taken full effect, the clinics said.
Women who are denied the constitutional right to access an abortion are more likely to try to end a pregnancy on their own. This is especially true for Latinas, according to recent research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at The University of Texas at Austin, which surveyed 1,397 female Texans between the ages of 18 and 49 last year. Of these, 44% were Latinas, of which 1.7% reported having tried to end a pregnancy on their own.
Hispanics already face obstacles to accessing health care: poverty, immigration status, unreliability of transportation, inability to take time off work and lack of help in caring for children. Plus, because Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be uninsured, it's difficult for them to find and afford health insurance.
Anne Davis, the consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, says she constantly hears stories of how the Texas law has compromised the health of Texas women.
“After a diagnosis of a lethal fetal condition, the laws forced delays that were so long that [one woman] had to leave the state to receive care,” Davis says. “That woman had the money to travel, but other women will be left with no options.”
With information from the Associated Press