This piece originally appeared on EBONY.com.
Earlier this month, McAllen and Beaumont, rural border towns in Texas, saw the closure of two more clinics that provide a full spectrum of women’s health care needs, including abortion. Because of Texas’s cruel new law, known as HB 2, people all across the state (and in neighboring states) are rapidly losing access to basic care. That’s two more clinics that can no longer provide Pap smears, cancer screenings, abortions, and birth control to their community—a community that disproportionately consists of low-income women of color who have no other options. It is expected that come September, only six clinics providing reproductive health care, including abortion, will remain. That’s down from 44 in 2011. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone – it’s the predictable consequence of an agenda that kicks the most vulnerable in our nation to the curb. It’s the outcome that forces women to use Coke and Lysol as douches. It’s the outcome of legislation that refuses to offer basic compassion and care to those who need it most. Which begs the question: What happened to the care in our health care system?
“Our country has a long and egregious history of denying women of color the ability to make our own decisions about sexuality and parenting,” says Elizabeth Dawes Gay, a native Texan and reproductive and maternal health expert. Gay, a senior associate at Reproductive Health Technologies Project continues, “It’s imperative that we move past policies that punish women and on to policies that support reproductive decision making, whatever those decisions may be.”
The Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Beaumont was the only comprehensive reproductive health provider between Houston and Louisiana, serving a tight knit, family community, many of whom have lived there for generations. The provider at the clinic is one “who not only performs safe abortions, but has delivered up to three generations of babies for over 40 percent of the city’s population,” explained Marva Sadler, Director of Clinical Services at Whole Woman’s Health. Over 20 percent of the Beaumont population lives below the poverty level— this makes the 200 miles round trip for two separate visits for an abortion prohibitively expensive for far too many women. “Reliable transportation, gas, lodging, and food are only some of the barriers these women will be faced with,” said Sadler, noting that women would also no longer be able to see a provider they could relate to and trust.
Over the years, the number of policies that put up barriers to basic bodily autonomy, deny the support needed to raise a family, and systematically bar low-income people from access to preventive care have increased dramatically. These policies, and the people behind them, effectively refuse preventive care and shame families for seeking out support. Don’t all people deserve to have safe and joyous sex, even if they are poor?
“Legislative leadership is out of step with the vast majority of Texans who support contraception and safe abortion care,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, President and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. And she’s right. It’s time that our country stop using “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” policies to shame women about their reproductive health. We aren’t giving women the tools to have safe sex, and when they are faced with an unintended pregnancy, we push the option to terminate the pregnancy out of reach. This is all while we refuse to adequately fund the foster care system, reject policies for quality education and safe neighborhoods, and make raising a child extremely difficult.
We know that the unjust policies within our health care system disproportionately impact low-income women of color who tend to have less access to primary care providers and reliable, affordable contraception. Because Black women don’t have consistent and affordable access to reproductive health care like contraception, we have the highest rate of unintended pregnancies.
Read the entire piece here.