Originally published on MintPress News.
AUSTIN, TEXAS — What does it mean to have a choice?
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Americans’ right to choose an abortion, but that choice is meaningless if someone can’t access a legal abortion clinic or legally obtain the abortion pill. Decades of the anti-abortion movement’s attacks on abortion access depend on this, and it’s a strategy which may have just won a major victory.
The challenge of accessing abortion just became far more difficult for millions of Texans. On Thursday, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court upheld all provisions of HB2, the Texas Omnibus Abortion Bill. As a result of the ruling, all but eight of the clinics in Texas providing abortions closed on Friday. Many Texans depended on these clinics for essential medical care beyond abortions.
Other provisions of the bill already restricted access to abortions after 20 weeks and access to the abortion pill, and added onerous requirements on abortion providers to receive hospital admitting privileges, which are often refused by the mostly Catholic hospitals in the state.
“This decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women,” Lauren Bean, a spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, told Fox News.
“Texas faces a health care crisis, brought on by its own legislators,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, a group of abortion providers that were party to the legal challenge, told RH Reality Check.
Rather than protecting the health of the state’s citizens, opponents of the law say HB2 is especially dangerous in a state where dozens of clinics have already closed due to budget cuts since 2011. It’s also a state that refused Medicaid expansion and that leads the country in the number of uninsured residents.
These “reproductive justice” organizers, activists and volunteers are building coalitions designed to reach the most disadvantaged in the state. They say it’s a movement that is about helping the most vulnerable — those who will suffer the most under HB2 and those who are most often overlooked by historic pro-abortion rights politics.
Inspired to defend choice and access
Several funds in Texas provide financial assistance to those seeking abortions, but one nonprofit, Fund Texas Choice, serves a unique role. This organization helps with the other logistics of an abortion such as transportation to and from a clinic and lodging during legally mandated waiting periods and post-procedure recovery.
Aimee Arrambide is a board member at Fund Texas Choice and a legal fellow at RH Reality Check, a source of news and analysis relating to sexual health and abortion access. Arrambide, who recently took the bar exam, told MintPress News that she was inspired to work on abortion access issues because of her father, an obstetrician who also performed abortions.
She recalled her confusion as a child when she first learned what an abortion was and that her father provided them.
“Someone came up to me in middle school and told me my dad killed babies, and I didn’t understand. I came home and questioned why would they say that and he explained to me what an abortion was. I was age 10 or 11. I was kind of shocked. Why would anyone need to get an abortion?” she said. “Until he explained the reason behind it and took me to the clinic in Laredo. He showed me people sitting in the office. He went once every two weeks, alternating between Laredo and Corpus Christi, and the waiting room was always filled. With people sometimes as young as I was, many of them immigrants … the picture of the waiting room showed me that these were people in need who really needed his help.”
Arrambide wants to use her law degree to help counter the efforts of Americans United for Life and their allies. This group is a major source of the attack on abortion access nationwide. Much like the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group with which AUL reportedly shares close ties, its members write model anti-abortion rights legislation that is then introduced by state legislators. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg was a sponsor of HB2 in the Texas Legislature, which has its origins in AUL model legislation, and she also acts as the Texas State Chair for ALEC.
AUL defines itself as the “the nation’s premier pro-life legal team,” saying the group “works through the law and legislative process to one end: Achieving comprehensive legal protection for human life from conception to natural death.” The group claims to have been “involved in every abortion-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court since Roe v. Wade” and also takes credit for the success of the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal dollars being used to fund abortions.
But Arrambide and other legal experts on her side of the abortion controversy see AUL as pioneers in a national strategy that seeks to have abortion reevaluated by a Supreme Court that’s become far less supportive since 1973. The strategy depends on creating multiple, divergent state laws like HB2 in order to force a clarifying decision by the highest court in the land.
As a Legal Fellow for RH Reality Check, Arrambide has extensively studied the pattern of the AUL’s model bills passing into law.
“It’s so obvious when you’re looking at the big picture. Not only that, but they try over and over again until they pass,” she told MintPress. “If I could create my dream job and automatically have funding, it would be to create a pro-choice and pro-reproductive justice version of AUL. We’d create model bills that any organization could have access to. They could just take it, tweak it, and bring it into their legislators’ offices.”
From reproductive rights to reproductive justice
Arrambide speaks purposefully when she refers to pro-abortion rights advocacy and reproductive justice as separate but related movements.
Arrambide was one of several organizers from Fund Texas Choice that led an August workshop on the language of abortion, attended by about a dozen activists and interested parties, including this reporter.
At the time of the workshop, the organization was known as Fund Texas Women. The reasons for that name change relate closely to what was discussed that afternoon — and will be explained in Part II of this article.
Arrambide spoke first, briefly outlining the history of the struggle for abortion access.
Its origins lie in the reproductive health movement, which offered health care services and reproductive information at a time when even basic birth control was suppressed or illegal. But the movement didn’t discuss “the root causes of access issues, health disparities, people who lacked access to services, and it doesn’t really address long term change,” Arrambide said.
In the years leading up to the historic Roe v. Wade decision, this movement led to the reproductive rights movement, which is what people most commonly think of when they think of “pro-choice” politics.
“That focused more on legal protections and changing laws and enforcement of laws that protect women,” she explained.
The reproductive rights movement, however, focuses on legislative changes and political advocacy.
“That movement is led by public policy and legal experts. People of privilege,” said Arrambide.
When asked about who has been overlooked by the reproductive rights movement, Arrambide said, “Reproductive rights left out those who were marginalized because of their immigration status, age, class, race, disabilities.”
Reproductive justice has its origins in the 1990s, in a group that formed out of the Black Women’s Caucus, becoming known as Sistersong Women Of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.
The following is part of Sistersong’s definition of reproductive justice:
It represents a shift for women advocating for control of their bodies, from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice (the focus of mainstream organizations) to a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.
Reproductive Justice addresses the social reality of inequality, specifically, the inequality of opportunities that we have to control our reproductive destiny. Our options for making choices have to be safe, affordable and accessible, three minimal cornerstones of government support for all individual life decisions.
In other words, rather than simply address the legislative issues surrounding abortion rights, reproductive justice attempts to address everything that affects a person’s ability to access those rights and even the societal factors which affect what decisions are made. For example, might there be fewer abortions if all parents could count on the availability of affordable or free health care and childcare for all of their offspring?
Challenges of access
AUL President Charmaine Yoest celebrated HB2 as a victory for health and safety: “Without today’s ruling, women and their unborn children would bear the deadly risk of abortion clinics that operate with substandard practices.”
AUL claims that HB2 doesn’t force clinics to close, but raises the standards of care. Opponents of HB2 call it a “TRAP Law,” which stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. These laws, they say, are designed to create such onerous standards in the name of health and safety that clinics must close due to the expense or outright impossibility of meeting these standards in their existing facilities. Other pro-abortion rights activists accuse these laws of sexism, pointing out that more invasive and dangerous procedures like vasectomies remain outpatient, doctor’s office procedures.
At the August workshop, Natalie St. Clair, Fund Texas Choice’s director of Human Resources, outlined the many challenges Texans will now face in accessing abortion or reproductive care. St. Clair answers the phones for the fund and oversees others who do the same task.
“It’s no longer just planning funding for an abortion,” she explained. “You now have to plan a two- to five-day trip that will likely cost as much as the procedure does. And that’s during a time when you may be sedated, uncomfortable, using a lot of emotional and mental capital. And it costs a lot of money.”
Even prior to Roe v. Wade, those who were wealthy and otherwise privileged had far less difficulty obtaining abortions. Texans seeking abortions may now have to travel hundreds of miles from some of the most remote parts of the state to obtain an abortion — a significant barrier for impoverished residents, some of whom may not own cars and may live a significant distance from the nearest long-distance bus station.
Further, due to mandated waiting periods, one can’t simply travel to the nearest clinic and back but must arrange for trips lasting multiple days, including the resulting time off work and cost of temporary lodging and even childcare for their children. Bus travel and other accommodations can be extremely difficult for the disabled. Race and racism often present further complications.
“We had one client from Paris, Texas, who was African-American and told us she didn’t even feel safe walking down the road in her town,” St. Clair said at the workshop. “So how is she supposed to get to a bus and buy a bus ticket? And she’s not just travelling in a space she feels unsafe, but travelling for a politicized reason.”
Immigration status presents another serious complication. Travel to clinics could involve travelling through U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints, and even bus travel is not a safe alternative.
“Greyhound randomly checks for immigration status,” St. Clair said. “They are required by law.”
What good is a choice, advocates ask, if a pregnant person gets deported on the way to the clinic?
In Part II of this article, MintPress will look at another aspect of the reproductive justice movement: the role of gender identity and sexual orientation in supporting abortion access.