50.50: Feature

US abortion ban will be ‘devastating’ for Hispanic and Black communities

Marginalised communities in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico already struggle to access abortion, say campaigners

danae.jpg
Dánae Vílchez
20 May 2022, 1.46pm

A ‘Day of Action’ march in Los Angeles, 14 May 2022

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Kilmer Media / Alamy Stock Photo

“People have been living in a ‘post-Roe’ world already,” says Aurelie Colón Larrauri. “Just because abortion is legal doesn't mean that it's accessible.”

Colón is policy advocate for the Florida branch of the Latina Institute, which works with Hispanic people at grassroots level to help them access reproductive healthcare.

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The US Supreme Court looks set to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that granted abortion rights until the 24th week. But pro-choice activists in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico say marginalised Hispanic and Black communities already face barriers in accessing abortion services – and that they stand to suffer the most if Roe is overturned.

Mayte Canino, from the sexual and reproductive rights group Planned Parenthood in South, East and North Florida, said that people face all sorts of barriers “while Roe is still the law of the land. It’s horrible to think about what will happen if it’s overturned.”

According to a draft opinion, leaked this month, the conservative majority in the US Supreme Court is heading to overturn Roe. The final decision will probably be announced in June.

The ruling is likely to end the federal constitutional protection of the right to abortion, opening the way for laws banning or restricting abortion in 23 states, including 13 states with so-called ‘trigger laws’ that will enter into effect almost immediately.

Only 16 states (including California, Colorado and Oregon) and the District of Columbia have legislation in place that secures abortion rights after Roe, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

Florida

Florida does not have a trigger ban, but in April, Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor, signed a bill that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks. A pregnancy can be terminated if the life of the pregnant person is at risk, but there are no exceptions for cases of incest, rape or human trafficking. The law comes into force on 1 July.

Additionally, a Florida judge ruled that patients must wait 24 hours after an initial medical appointment before they can have an abortion.

Both the 15-week abortion ban and the 24-hour waiting period are huge barriers for patients from low-income communities, particularly Hispanic and African American people, according to Colón.

Almost a quarter of Florida’s population are Hispanic, and almost a third (29%) of them are poor. More than 16% of the state’s population are Black, and 27% of them live in poverty.

“Sometimes people have to travel for two days, and now they will have to wait another 24 hours. That means job loss [...] And who will take care of the other kids? There are also language barriers. Putting it all together, it makes it harder for a person to access abortion,” Canino told openDemocracy.

Another barrier is anti-immigration laws, according to Colón. Undocumented migrants with unwanted pregnancies may miss health appointments out of fear of deportation, A similar problem affects those who need parental consent, if their parents are undocumented.

”We see those anti-immigrant and anti-abortion laws go hand in hand and create a fear that makes people not want to seek reproductive healthcare,” she said.

Texas

Last year, Texas passed a bill that bans abortions after six weeks – one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the US. The state has the longest border with Mexico in the US (more than 1,200 miles) and is home to one of the largest Hispanic populations in the country: 39% of Texans are Hispanic, of whom more than a third (34%) are poor.

Overturning Roe would be “devastating” for undocumented migrants in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, a primarily Hispanic border region, according to Paula Saldaña, a local field organiser for the Latina Institute.

Chaos has already broken out in my community. The fear of visiting a clinic is always widespread among undocumented people

Paula Saldaña, Latina Institute

Many people in this region cannot afford to travel to other states for abortions, let alone to other countries, and might even resort to using unsafe methods to travel to Mexico, Saldaña said.

"Even though [overturning Roe] is not an official decision yet, chaos has already broken out in my community. The fear of visiting a clinic is always widespread among undocumented people. Imagine if this goes through,” she said.

Puerto Rico

The consequences of overturning Roe will also be felt in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, a US ‘territory’ (not a state) as a result of its colonial history.

Abortion is legal in Puerto Rico because of its own ‘Roe’ decision: Pueblo v Duarte – a 1980 constitutional court ruling that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion.

But lawyer Frances Collazo, co-director of Profamilias – which runs one of only four abortion clinics on the island – says repealing Roe could restrict access to abortion services via new legislation.

If Roe v Wade is overturned, Collazo thinks, anti-abortion forces in Puerto Rico will be empowered to escalate their campaigns. In the past few years, at least ten bills have been introduced to Puerto Rico’s legislative assembly to restrict sexual and reproductive rights, she told openDemocracy.

The most recent one, which bans abortion after 22 weeks, is currently being debated by the Puerto Rico senate. The only exception would be if the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

"Puerto Rican politicians will be like: ‘If the United States, at the level of the Supreme Court, stopped protecting [the right to abortion], then I am not going to go against that rule of law,’” she said.

Fighting back

Retiree Minerva Glidden, who worked as a nurse through the pre-Roe era and is an activist with the Florida branch of the National Organization of Women (NOW), said she never expected that the right to abortion would be abolished.

In the 1960s and ’70s, "women attempted desperate measures to end a pregnancy. I once had a 14-year-old girl who was raped, had an unsafe abortion and suffered an infection. We [had] to remove her uterus at age 14,” she recalled.

“We don’t want to go back to that, and with the possible overturn of Roe, we are all outraged. We didn't see it coming.”

But pro-choice activists are determined to fight back.

Reproductive health groups and providers will ensure access to services for people who need abortions, said Planned Parenthood’s Canino – including transporting people across state lines.

Colón, from the Latina Institute, urges people to donate to specific abortion funds, so that patients in need can afford a procedure in the state where they live, or can travel to other states for a termination.

“It will take a whole village and a whole community to get to this fight together. But we are determined,” she said.

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