When the U.S. Supreme Court denied the constitutional right to an abortion in its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Friday, thus overturning the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade and scrapping nearly 50 years of federal protections for abortion rights, rage and devastation ensued but not shock.
“It’s not surprising to us,” said Lupe M. Rodríguez, executive director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. “We have been expecting this for many years and sounding the alarm around this possibility.”
Latino communities, along with other communities of color, have had trouble accessing reproductive health care for many reasons. The most common barriers they face are lack of insurance coverage —whether due to their employment or immigration status— the inability to take time off work, and the general availability of health clinics, particularly in rural places where many Latinos live.
Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS) told Latino Rebels she expects women of color to be disproportionately impacted, especially those living in rural areas. She also noted that last Friday’s decision puts other aspects of reproductive healthcare at risk.
“I think that the implication of overturning 50 years of precedent is a huge concern, especially given some of the really extreme things that are in the footnotes, talking about extreme stuff like contraception.”
Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) shared the same worries as Rep. Davids about the implications the decision could have on contraception and same-sex marriage, telling Latino Rebels on Friday that he hopes the House takes some action.
The footnote that Rep. Davids referred to was the concurring opinion from conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote that “in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents.”
Among those were rulings that established gay rights and contraception rights, which Thomas called “demonstrably erroneous decisions.”
Carol Sanger, a constitutional law professor at Columbia University, told Latino Rebels that the concerns regarding same-sex marriage and contraception are justified because “we already have an announcement from one person on the Supreme Court that they’re very vulnerable.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told Latino Rebels he’s going to do everything he can to defend the right to choose in Maryland.
“I know that it could be under threat by the Republicans because the vast majority of the Republican legislators say they’re against the right of women to choose an abortion,” he said. “They want to treat women like criminals for making healthcare decisions.”
“Even after Roe v. Wade [became law], we never actually fully had the right to abortion,” said Rodríguez. With last Friday’s decision, she expects Latinx people will face even more disproportionate consequences.
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate among the Latino population has decreased from 30 percent in 2013 to 19 percent in 2017, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Although more Latinos are gaining access to health insurance, they are not nearly as covered as non-Latino white people: the report found the uninsured rate among Latinos is more than double that among non-Latino white people.
With Roe v. Wade overturned, having health insurance doesn’t guarantee access to abortion. People in states like Texas with trigger laws banning abortions will have to travel and find a clinic with a doctor in their network. If not, they’ll have to find a way to pay for the abortion out of pocket.
Reproductive healthcare accessibility aside, Rodríguez is concerned about the criminalization of abortion.
“We know that when abortion is criminalized, communities of color will bear the brunt of that,” Rodríguez said. “We’re already criminalized at rates much higher than our white counterparts, and this is just another excuse for the state and the government to criminalize our communities.”
Texas passed a law last September that bans most abortions after six weeks —before most people know they are pregnant— and allows anyone to sue a doctor who performs an abortion, or anyone who “aids or abets” a person seeking one.
In April, Texan Lizelle Herrera was charged with murder for a “self-induced” abortion, though the district attorney quickly dropped the charges, stating that there was no legal justification for them.
While Texas law permitted lawsuits, it didn’t authorize criminal charges. The law also spares women and other people who can get pregnant from getting sued for abortion.
“That is trauma that the person had to endure,” said Zaena Zamora, executive director of Frontera Fund. “They were arrested, they were in jail, and they had to get bailed out. That is something that cannot just be undone.”
“It also reverberates trauma throughout the community,” she added, “because now people who are pregnant are afraid to reveal any life-saving information to their medical providers because now they’re afraid that that might happen to them too.”
Frontera Fund provides financial and logistical support for abortion to the Rio Grande Valley in Southern Texas. As a response to the Texas law, it decided to serve the entire border community, from El Paso to Brownsville.
Now the group is pausing its services to the community because of the uncertainty around Texas law following the end of Roe v. Wade.
“We don’t know what kind of legal repercussions we may face, if at all, so we’re figuring that out now,” Zamora said.
Texas Equal Access Fund, another organization working to expand access to abortion care to Texans, is also evaluating its operations to ensure they’re working in compliance with the law.
“Abortion fund staff and volunteers could be at risk of arrest and involvement with the racist criminal justice system. As a Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led organization, we are holding the weight of this. We are working diligently to get clarity on what services and information sharing we can safely resume and when,” said Kamyon Conner, the group’s executive director, in a statement last Friday.
Frontera Fund has helped people travel to states including New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and as far as Maryland, Washington D.C., Minnesota, and “basically anywhere they can get an appointment.” It spent an average of $10,000 a month on travel expenses and about $7,000 a month for healthcare costs since the Texas law was passed.
Before its passage, the group spent $4,000 a year on travel expenses, but Zamora says the Fund spent $16,000 on travel expenses just last month.
“If you look at the Rio Grande Valley, we are a small community that’s on the southern border of Texas. We don’t have any major airports, so it’s a lot to travel out of the Rio Grande Valley,” Zamora explained.
Frontera Fund has helped around 250 people since the passage of Texas’ abortion law. The past few months have been a lot busier for the organization, with 30 to 40 callers a month. Zamora said most callers are parents.
“They say they aren’t ready to have another child. Some of them are in abusive relationships. Some of them are in school and are not ready to have children. There are so many reasons why people have abortions, and honestly, the reasons don’t matter. It’s the lack of access that’s really important right now and how that’s going to really impact our community,” she said.
Despite the narratives that paint the Latino community as conservative on abortion issues, data shows that many within the community understand and empathize with the consequences of reproductive care decisions.
Seven in 10 Latinx voters see societal and personal benefits to women having control over reproductive decisions, according to a 2021 nationwide poll sponsored by reproductive justice groups. The poll also found half of Latinx voters believe abortion should be legal in all cases.
Rep. Correa told Latino Rebels that he doesn’t support abortion personally but is still pro-choice. “This is a decision that should be between the woman, her God and her doctor,” he said.
“I was asked earlier what my response was to the Pope’s statement on this and the effect that it would have on the Latino community,” said Rodríguez, “and the answer is: I don’t think it matters. Our community, as I said, is supportive of the right to abortion, and will continue to be so despite this ruling and, frankly, will continue to need abortion.”
Pablo Manríquez contributed to this reporting.
Chantal Vaca is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media based in New York City and a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism. Twitter: @VacaChantal