Starting in 2013 with Wendy Davis’ now-famous pink-sneakered filibuster, the raging battle to keep Texas’ abortion clinics open has become somewhat of a national spectator sport. While it’s not clear that most Texans know the full extent of the deceptive and devastating laws wreaking havoc on women’s health care in the state, Texas has, for many, become a cautionary tale of politics run amok and abortion care denied.
While the politicians have gotten plenty of ink, and deserved attention has been paid to the impacts of Texas’ clinic shutdown law on immigrants and Latinas in Texas, one group of Texans has been nearly ignored in this ongoing discussion: Black women. And that’s a huge problem, given that Black women have just as much, if not more, at stake as the Supreme Court moves forward to review these laws. The justices decided on Friday to rule on whether or not a 2013 law that places restrictions on abortion clinics, and could close down the remaining 18 in the state, is constitutional.
While Black Texans make up only 12.5 percent of the state population (mirroring the national statistic of 13.2 percent), 30 percent of women who have abortions in Texas are Black. As someone who has served the women of Texas as an abortion provider for ten years, I have seen firsthand the obstacles Black women must overcome to end a pregnancy.
Black women are paid a mere 63 cents on the dollar compared to white men, and these low wages compound a legacy of economic injustice. The result? Many Black women, in Texas and nationally, are already struggling to make ends meet, and the cost of birth control or other reproductive health care, including abortion, can be prohibitive, particularly because the Hyde Amendment currently withholds abortion coverage for women enrolled in Medicaid.
To get an abortion in Texas under today’s draconian regime, a woman must raise the funds, often travel hundreds of miles, find childcare and transportation, and go to multiple (medically unnecessary) appointments. For Black women already struggling to get by and support their families, this Herculean task is daunting, if not impossible.
Black girls and youth face still more challenges. Black teens (and other youth of color) are less likely to receive formal sex education, and Texas’ ineffective abstinence-only program isn’t helping. In addition, Texas youth, in many cases, cannot receive highly-effective prescription contraception without parental consent. Not surprisingly, these factors contribute to a particularly high rate of unintended pregnancy for Black youth–who are then forced to get parental consent before they can get an abortion.
When a Black woman comes into one of the Whole Woman’s Health clinics I’ve been proud to call home for the last four years, I know all too well what she had to overcome just to get to us. I am humbled by the strength and resilience of women I see every day who, despite the odds against them, have come to us for compassionate and nonjudgemental care. My respect and support for these women, and the decision they have made, is rooted in my firm belief in the inalienable human dignity of each of us, a notion the Texas legislature seems to have left on the cloak room floor.
One of the saddest days of my professional life was the day our Beaumont, Texas, clinic was forced to close. The Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Beaumont was the only comprehensive reproductive health provider between Houston and Louisiana. It served a community that felt like a family, and included a provider who not only performed safe abortions, but had helped deliver up to three generations of babies for over 40 percent of the city’s population. Nearly half of the community’s residents are Black, and the loss of that clinic was felt poignantly by Black women in the area. I’ve stayed up more than one sleepless night thinking of those women, and wondering how they are coping.
We have taken this fight all the way to the Supreme Court because we know that HB 2 is already visiting untold heartache and hurt upon the women of Texas. And I have seen how Black women are among the most likely to find themselves in the crosshairs. The Court cannot, must not, allow this law to stand. Not only would it leave Texas’ 1.7 million Black women and girls (and the rest of Texas residents) with 9 abortion providers across an immense state, it could open the door for other states to follow Texas’ terrible lead.
There are days when living as a Black woman in Texas breaks my heart. Still other days it lifts me up. We are a state which has regulated abortion nearly out of reach for many here, even as state policies restricting sex education and contraception make unintended pregnancy an inevitability. We are a state where Black women have a maternal mortality rate more than twice as high as white women – a gap that is widening. We are a state where being a young Black girl at a pool party, or a Black woman in police custody, can mean violence or even death. But we are also the home of a deep legacy of Black women leaders and liberators who have fought ceaselessly for our health, for our lives, and for a better Texas.
Black women deserve compassion, dignity, and respect–in abortion care as in all aspects of our lives. Next year, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to affirm this, or deny it. The stakes for Black women in Texas, and beyond, are unquestionably high.
Marva Sadler is Director of Clinical Services for Whole Woman's Health. A longtime Texas resident, Sadler has provided compassionate abortion services to Texas women for 10 years.