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Undocumented and in need of an abortion in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas


For someone looking to have an abortion after their sixth week of pregnancy in Texas, the answer is simple: go. Travel to another state where you can access an abortion after six weeks, which in Texas is illegal according to SB 8. This is the only option left, even if it is a logistical and financial nightmare.

But what if you can’t travel out of state? What if any trip – whether it’s to the nearest grocery store or clinic three hours away – puts you in danger of being detained or deported? This is the reality for undocumented migrants trying to access abortion care in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

Home to around 1.3 million people, the Rio Grande Valley is a “desert of an abortion clinic,” said Cathy Torres, organizer of the event. Frontera Fund, a reproductive justice organization that provides financial and logistical support to undocumented migrants in the valley seeking abortions. The region, which includes four counties, has only one abortion clinic, Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen – the only abortion clinic in San Antonio, Texas, (four hours north of the valley) in Mexico City (eight hours south).

The valley sits at the southern tip of Texas, an area bordered by the Gulf Coast to the east and the Rio Grande River along the US-Mexico border to the west. Within 100 miles of the border, the valley also contains nearly 20 immigration checkpoints operated by the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Patrol. If an undocumented person encounters one of these checkpoints and is asked to show documents but does not have them, they will be immediately detained.

“You can’t go to Mexico if you’re undocumented and you can’t leave the valley either because an hour north of you there is another man-made border post,” Torres said. “You are either forced to become a parent or you risk deportation. These are your two options if you are undocumented and pregnant and don’t want to be.

The Rio Grande Valley is made up of four counties and is home to 1.3 million people.

Isabella Carapella / HuffPost; Photos: Getty

When Texas passed the country’s most extreme abortion restriction in September, advocates and providers rushed to ensure people could still access the procedure out of state. Practical support groups worked around the clock to manage carpools and flight costs; physicians and staff disseminated information about these resources to patients; and state and national abortion funds have raised funds to help pay for procedures in other states. (Different courts have decided to uphold or suspend the law in recent weeks, further confusing Texans seeking abortions.)

But organizers like Torres and Anna Rupani of Fund Texas Choice fear that insufficient attention is being paid to the obstacles faced by undocumented migrants as a result of SB 8.

“Undocumented migrants are excluded from the conversation,” Rupani said.

Cross identities highlight the disproportionate impact of abortion restrictions like SB 8 on the most marginalized populations: immigrants, people of color, the poor, and people living in rural or underserved geographies. . SB 8 not only bans abortions after six weeks, a period during which most people don’t know they are pregnant, but it also provides a financial incentive for private citizens to seek out and prosecute anyone who “helps or encourages” Texans. to have an abortion. . If someone successfully sues, they could receive a bonus of at least $ 10,000 and have all of their legal fees paid by the opposing party.

Border patrol checkpoints and the deserts of abortion clinics are the most glaring barriers for undocumented Texans in the wake of SB 8, but they’re not the only barriers. The costs of abortion care, lack of access to resources in Spanish and other languages, as well as the continued militarization of the border are constant obstacles for undocumented migrants seeking abortion care in the valley. of the Rio Grande.

The cost of an abortion in the valley is very high – ranging from $ 800 to $ 1,500, depending on gestation – because the few clinics that remain in or near the area are private. In comparison, the average cost of an abortion in other parts of Texas, such as Houston, is around $ 600.

And while coverage like Medicaid is available (albeit to a limited extent) for undocumented immigrants, it doesn’t matter: The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, bans the Federal health insurance to cover abortion procedures. Rosie Jimenez, from the Rio Grande Valley, was the first known victim of the Hyde Amendment after trying to have an abortion in 1977, but couldn’t afford the procedure because Medicaid no longer covered her. Jimenez later died after seeing an unlicensed midwife who offered to do the procedure for less money. (Texas has its own version of the Hyde Amendment, SB 214, which passed in 2017.)

“It’s quite confusing in English. It is a problem to wait for other people who speak different languages ​​to understand this while we are still learning it. “

– Cathy Torres, Frontera Fund

Language is another big hurdle, especially for undocumented people trying to navigate really complex laws – like SB 8 – written in English.

“Apart from defenders like us, where have you seen information about SB 8 that is spoken in other languages? Torres asked. “It’s quite confusing in English. It is a problem to wait for other people who speak different languages ​​to understand this while we are still learning it. “

Sharon, an undocumented woman currently living in Texas who asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her identity, had an abortion in 2016 and was forced to travel to New Mexico because she did not could get abortion care in Texas, which had a 20-week ban in effect at the time. Although she had a student visa at the time, Sharon said she was still worried about traveling. The abortion funds helped her raise $ 9,000 in three days so she could fly out of state and have an abortion later in her pregnancy.

“It was really scary because at that point I was waiting for my student visa because I hadn’t studied that semester. They said if I didn’t study my visa would no longer have status. So I was like, what am I going to do? What if I fly and something happens? I was really scared, ”she told HuffPost.

Sharon hasn’t had any issues with the language barrier since she studied English in her home country, but she saw how difficult it would have been if she couldn’t speak English. When she was at her appointment at the clinic in New Mexico, Sharon had to translate for a woman who did not speak English. At one point, the woman called Sharon from her hotel room because she was feeling such intense pain after the procedure and needed Sharon to speak to the clinic staff for her.

“If I didn’t speak English, I know for sure that it would have been impossible to have an abortion,” Sharon said.

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, state director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice in Texas, also highlighted the impact of border militarization and immigration policy on undocumented residents seeking abortions. SB 4, which was passed in 2017 and allows state police to act as immigration agents, has only further marginalized undocumented migrants.

“There has always been a steady increase and funding for the army and police in the valley to quell a so-called border crisis that doesn’t seem to exist for the people of the valley but for some reason it does. for the governor, ”said Cárdenas Peña. .

When he considered the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade the landmark ruling that protects a person’s right to abortion – Torres was realistic about the lives of many in Texas: “We’ve already navigated a post-Roe world,” she said. ‘a community often excluded from the conversation and faced with more disparities than other regions, abortion is not accessible at all here, especially if you are undocumented. “

And if Roe is knocked down, it will only get worse. “I’m a human being. I’m really scared that Roe v. Wade will be canceled,” she admitted. “There are so many people saying, ‘It’s so extreme it would never happen. But everyone said SB 8 was extreme and wouldn’t happen and look where we are now.

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