Crisis for women in Texas

A health care crisis for women of reproductive age has exploded in Texas as a restrictive law passed last year takes effect. But it’s also a human rights crisis, a women’s rights crisis, a reproductive justice crisis.

Clinics are being forced to close because they cannot meet strict regulations requiring doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and because abortion facilities cannot meet standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). Other stipulations impose stiff restrictions on prescriptions for medication abortions (once called RU486) and ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Given there were more than 5.4 million women of reproductive age in Texas in 2011, reports the Guttmacher Institute, clinic closings mean millions of women no longer have access to comprehensive, quality reproductive health care, including affordable contraception and screening for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. And 687,000 poor women will not be eligible for Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act because right-wing legislators, led by Gov. Rick Perry, refused to enroll Texas in it. (National Women’s Law Center)

Who will suffer most from lack of access to health care? Poor women, who are most often women of color, immigrants, youth and rural residents, and their families.

In the Rio Grande Valley, where most residents are un-or-underinsured and two-thirds of the 275,000 women of child-bearing age are poor, two Whole Women Health clinics closed in early March. “Where are [the women] going to go?” asked regional clinic director Marva Sadler in a March 5 RH Reality Check article. Women in Beaumont face a 90-minute drive to Houston; a three-hour drive to Baton Rouge, La.; or a three-and-a-half-hour drive to San Antonio.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, Whole Women CEO, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on March 5, “Women are taking matters into their own hands.” She reports women are self-inducing abortions with unregulated medicines bought at local flea markets or in Mexico. “Women are harming themselves by asking boyfriends to beat them or risking their lives to douche with Coke or Lysol. The law didn’t prevent the need for abortions; it just blocked access to it. It’s just heartbreaking.” And a throwback to the horrendous conditions before legal abortion.

Of 44 clinics in 2011, only 24 remain. When ASC standards take effect in September, only six will remain.

Anti-abortion lawmakers claimed the law would protect women and improve their standard of care. Maybe in their twisted minds, but not in the disastrous, life-threatening way it’s affecting working and poor women.

According to a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, states may pass restrictions that do not impose an “undue burden” on women’s access to abortion. Surely the Texas law imposes monumental burdens, enforcing rigid class divisions allowing rich women to exercise their rights, while denying them to the vast majority of women.

Historically, fighting back in the factories, neighborhoods and streets has created change. Only after women’s liberation demonstrations demanding abortion rights erupted from coast to coast in the early 1970s did the Supreme Court vote 7 to 2 (the majority Republicans) to legalize women’s right to choose abortion in 1973.

Let’s follow the example of thousands of women who marched in the Spanish capital of Madrid on Feb. 1 and again on March 8 to oppose a law restricting abortions except for women who have been raped or who face serious health risks.

There hasn’t been a national demonstration for reproductive justice in the U.S. since 2004. One is long overdue. Make no mistake: The attacks on women’s health care and reproductive rights in Texas, among other states, are a strategic component of the systematic ruling-class attack on the whole working class and all the oppressed.

Millions of women and men in the streets across this country demanding reproductive justice would send a strong, united message to the ruling class — we demand the right to life for all women. We need access to free, safe, comprehensive health care now!