Sunday, May 12, 2013

Advocates say Texas abortion bill would impact low-income women

EDITOR'S NOTE: One of five final projects the Spring 2013 Data Visualization class for the University of Texas School of Journalism.

By Faith Daniel, Beth Cortez-Neavel and Ashley Meleen

A bill that would force abortion care facilities to be more up to surgical center standards could affect access to care for low-income women in Texas and endanger their safety, pro-choice champions say.

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, a non-profit organization working toward making abortion care safer and more affordable, argues on their website that Senate Bill 537 is “unnecessary for abortion to take place in hospital-like settings… a prohibitively expensive requirement.”

SB 537 would make abortion services comparable to a surgical center’s care, ultimately resulting in a very expensive procedure and making abortion care more unreachable for low-income women, NARAL says.

The bill—authored by Republican Senators Bob Deuell (Greenville), Charles Schwertner (Georgetown) and Donna Campbell (New Braunfels)—passed through the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in March and is waiting to be heard on the Senate floor.

Currently, Texas has passed numerous bills since the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade that limit abortion care. Apart from the 2011 sonogram law that requires a physician to provide a sonogram before performing an abortion, there’s the 1976 “Hyde Amendment” that prohibits federal Medicaid funding to cover abortions, except when a pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or endangers the mother’s life; the state also passed the “Women’s Right to Know” law in 2011, which requires physicians to give women information about abortion medical risks, adoption and development stages of the fetus.

Organizations like NARAL are working toward legislation that will make abortion care safer and more affordable, especially for low-income women. NARAL’s Executive Director Heather Busby says their ultimate wishlist includes doing away with any legislation that “negatively impacts reproductive freedom in the state,” like mandatory pre-abortion counseling, facilities requirements that increase cost and reduce accessibility, unnecessary restrictions notification and consent laws for minors in need of abortions.

But Busby says NARAL’s focus this session is on keeping more restrictive laws, which inadvertently drive up costs to women seeking abortion services, from passing.

“Laws that restrict access to abortion or create additional obstacles create a burden on low-income women, Busby says. “SB 537 would cause the closure of all but five clinics in the entire state.”

One in three women have abortions by the age of 45, according to Planned Parenthood. The Guttmacher Institute, a national health and reproductive services research institute, reported in 2008 that 42 percent of women receiving abortions nationally were classified as low-income. Last year the institute released a study showing there has been a national growing hostility against access to abortion services since 2000.

A recent study on the effect of the 2011 sonogram law by the Population Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Ibis Reproductive Health found an extra trip to the clinic costs women an additional $141 in lost wages, childcare and travel costs in Texas, Busby says. The Texas sonogram law requires women to make two trips to the clinic — one for a sonogram 24 hours before the procedure and a separate trip for the actual abortion.

Busby says she’s also seen firsthand how barriers to abortion access affect low income women.

“It is often these women who seek abortion care in the second trimester due to lack of access to healthcare,” she says. “They typically start trying to access abortion care earlier in the pregnancy but by the time they're able to, they're later in their pregnancies.”

This session, there are other bills on the books that would limit women’s ability to access care at these later dates, which could also affect low-income women’s safety. House Bill 2364 and its companion Senate Bill 25 seek to ban abortions at 20 weeks, based on a hotly debated claim that a fetus can feel pain at that gestational age.

“Then there’s SB 25/HB 2364, the 20 week abortion ban,” Busby says. “This bill is introduced under the guise of ‘fetal pain,’ although reputable medical studies have shown time and again that a fetus does not feel pain until the third trimester. There are no exceptions for fetal anomaly, rape and incest or mental health, and only a narrow exception for the life and health of the woman. This bill would affect women in some of the most dire and heartbreaking situations.”

Pro-life organizations like Texas Right To Life, or TRTL, say abortion is not only morally wrong, but is also a risk to women’s health; the organization believes women should be given information before making a decision on aborting.

On their website, TRTL links abortion to breast cancer, stating, “To this date, 37 studies have been conducted worldwide on the abortion/breast cancer link, and over 75 percent of them have shown that abortion is a risk for breast cancer.”

Pro-choice organizations like NARAL fear women’s health, particularly low-income, will be negatively affected by restrictions, while right-to-lifers says abortion is already risky.

“Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS) is a term used to describe a wide range of symptoms that are intimately related to, and expressions of, a previous abortion experience,” says TRTL. “With the growing awareness of Post-Abortion Syndrome in scholarly and clinical circles, women with PAS can expect to receive a more sensitive appreciation of the suffering that they endure.”

TRLT pushes adoption as an alternative to abortion and seek that disadvantaged women view it as such, “Adopted children may enjoy more socioeconomic advantages than children who remain with their unmarried birth mothers. Adoptive parents may tend to be better-educated and older with higher incomes.”

Ultimately, NARAL and TRLT have one goal in common — to provide more information for women to explore options and receive better health care.

“We would like to see funding to family planning fully restored with all providers included in the funding and in the Texas Women's Health Program,” Busby says. “And we would like to see greater support for comprehensive sexuality education that provides our youth with medically accurate, unbiased factual information.”


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