The Twisted Legislation on Bodies: Reproductive Rights, Health and Justice
Before 2013, The Whole Woman’s Health Clinic served five communities in Texas–Austin, Beaumont, McAllen, San Antonio and Fort Worth. Patient testimonials from The Whole Woman’s Health Clinic are glowing as women capture what it means to visit a clinic where they feel supported and understood. “Thank you so much to the staff – your kindness, compassion and gentle nature made all the difference in the world. Thank you for all you do for women. To the other women – be strong, you are not alone and may your lives be beautiful.”
Unfortunately, two of the five Texas divisions of The Whole Woman’s Health Clinic (McAllen and Beaumont) had to close their doors when the Texas legislature passed House Bill 2 (HB2), an act regulating abortion procedures, providers and facilities. Specifically, HB2 included a clause requiring all abortion clinic physicians to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic. The Whole Woman’s Health Clinic could not obtain those privileges in time. One clause forced the shutdown of two clinics, one of which (Beaumont) was the only comprehensive reproductive health provider between Houston and Louisiana. According to Ebony’s article “Black Women’s Health Care in Crisis” the Beaumont clinic had served a close-knit community and delivered up to three generations of children for more than 40 percent of the city’s population.
More recently, the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby infringed upon the reproductive rights of women when the court claimed that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law enacted to ensure the government could not significantly suppress a person’s free exercise of religion. The decision applied narrowly to owners of “closely held” (not to be confused with small) companies that have firm religious objections to certain forms of birth control.
Reproductive legislation like HB2 and Hobby Lobby is not anything new. In 1976, the House of Representatives passed the Hyde Amendment, a legislative measure prohibiting Medicaid, a health insurance program for low-income individuals, from covering abortion. In order to understand how laws such as HB2 and the Hyde Amendment affect black women, it’s vital to dig beneath the surface of the legislation and examine the socioeconomic context of these laws.
In the case of HB2, more than 20 percent of the Beaumont population lives below the poverty line. With the Beaumont clinic being forced to close its doors, women are now required to make trips up to 200 miles if they wish to receive an abortion because HB2 requires two in-person visits to receive the abortion-inducing drugs as well as a follow-up appointment within 14 days. For most women, multiple mandatory trips and the cost of transportation to make those trips are simply too expensive. Additionally, 2010 Census data cites that 47.3 percent of Beaumont’s population is African American. And, because many black women lack affordable and consistent access to reproductive healthcare, the Guttmatcher Institutereports that we have the highest rate of unintended pregnancies.
Perhaps the insidious interplay between reproductive legislation and socioeconomic factors is best summed up in Aana Marie Vigen’s book, “Women, Ethics and Inequality In U.S. Healthcare.”
“In summary, Black and Latinos disproportionately bear three heavy burdens with respect to their non-Latino white counterparts: being uninsured, being impoverished and being more likely to have public insurance in a context where the most comprehensive and generous insurance plans are most often employer-based or privately purchased…given these facts, one might conclude that Blacks and Latinos–rather than being the ones ‘draining’ U.S. healthcare of its resource–are, in actuality, the ones being asked to duffer the greatest costs to their individual and communal well-being.”
Reproductive legislation has always perplexed me. Ironically enough, it only perplexes me more after having poured through research about it. As someone who has been staunchly pro-choice for quite some time, it disheartens and enrages me when male (or even female) politicians get to elect what a woman chooses to do with her own body, or place restrictions around those choices. It’s no secret that low-income women of color are most subject to the ever-changing and restrictive measures of reproductive law. But just because it’s no secret doesn’t mean that fact is any less dejecting.
Next page: Beyond the Statistics: Black Women and Sexual Health