Reproductive rights

Undocumented women face shrinking options for reproductive health care under Texas abortion law

Your browser doesn’t support HTML5 audio

In this June 16, 2021, file photo, a migrant family from Venezuela move to a Border Patrol transport vehicle after they and other migrants crossed the US-Mexico border and turned themselves in Del Rio, Texas.

Credit:

Eric Gay/AP/File

The new Texas law known as SB8 bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The law will have far-reaching impacts for many communities. 

For undocumented women in Texas seeking abortions, their options were already narrow. They can't easily travel out of state because of Border Patrol checkpoints along the Texas-Mexico line.

Related: Catalonia's temporary tele-abortion services are a game-changer

The law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually at about six weeks — before some women know they’re pregnant. Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas’ law differs significantly because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens through civil lawsuits, instead of criminal prosecutors.

The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest. 

Related: In Italy, religious organizations' 'fetus graves' reignite abortion debate

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, the Texas director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, knows a lot about the barriers that undocumented women face at the Mexico-US border. She joined The World's host Marco Werman to talk about the impact of Texas' new abortion law, specifically on undocumented women. 

Marco Werman: Nancy, what were the obstacles facing undocumented women in Texas seeking to end a pregnancy before this new law, SB8? 
Nancy Cárdenas Peña: In areas like the Rio Grande Valley, we only have one clinic to meet the demand of an entire region, and that's millions of people trying to access services for this clinic. And so, we also have internal immigration checkpoints 100 miles in that prevent people who are undocumented from seeking care outside of the state of Texas, outside of even that region where they currently live. So, leaving the state for care — that's simply not an option.
Right. So the Border Patrol checkpoints already made it impractical for undocumented women to just go somewhere else for abortion services. For undocumented women, how else does this new law impact their reproductive health? 
We did have previous legislation that basically made police officers defacto immigration agents. So, we were already seeing a decrease of people who are undocumented attending regular appointments, regular checkups for preventative care, because these areas, like the border, were so over-militarized and so overpoliced. And so, we're definitely going to see a continuation of that. It's not as simple as going to another state, even for other folks, right? Because the other states that are close to Texas have a very limited amount of abortion clinics, and such is the same for the Rio Grande Valley, a population and a region of so many people with just one abortion clinic.
And the Rio Grande Valley is where you do a lot of your work, right?
Absolutely. It's where I was born and raised and this is where I will continue to do my work. 
Would this law also impact women who live in Mexico near the Texas border and may rely on health services in Texas? 
Yes. So, there are a lot of very restrictive laws that Mexico has over abortion. And so, the clinic here in the Rio Grande Valley was also meeting that demand of folks who were from Mexico and close to the border and could actually come into the United States.
What kind of calls have you been receiving from undocumented women seeking help? What are the dilemmas they face and what kinds of questions do they have for you?
A lot of the questions that I get and calls and communications from folks is, what in the world are they going to do now? And it's not a very simple answer that I have, right? We have a huge dilemma, catastrophic thing that's happening here in Texas, where a lot of folks need abortions past six weeks.
Yeah, I mean, that tough conversation that does reflect the fact that ending a pregnancy is a complex, personal decision. It's wrapped up in deeply ingrained cultural attitudes and religious beliefs.
You know, I think we all love someone who has had an abortion. And here, in the Rio Grande Valley, that's not any different. So, when I hear people at the legislature use religion as an excuse for restricting abortion, that's just something that's not true. And we have a huge base of people from all different walks of life and different religious backgrounds that support people's access to abortion because it's a fundamental right, for one, and people know and understand that it's not ending abortion — it's just ending safe abortion.
Nancy, what kind of pushback does your group receive from within the Latino community for the work you do? How deep are the divides?
A lot of people have this conception that because we are a majority Latinx community and very religious, that we're going to receive a lot more pushback. But a lot of our members go to church. You know, we had recent local efforts try to pass an ordinance that copied SB8 language, including the vigilante clause. And we had hundreds of people show up in opposition to it — much more than the other side. So, I think people really need to expand their thinking and broaden their horizons when it comes to conflating religion and abortion.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.