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Latino abortion rights advocates warn of ‘dark times’ if Roe v. Wade is reversed

The impact of the Supreme Court decision would "fall hardest on those who already struggle to access health care, including abortion," says a national abortion rights leader.

As soon as Texas implemented its restrictive 2021 abortion law, Omar Casas got busy helping distribute packets with Plan B contraceptive pills and condoms in the Rio Grande Valley.

The volunteer work just became more urgent with Monday's leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark law that legalized abortion, said Casas, who volunteers with South Texans for Reproductive Justice.

"What we fear is that abortion was targeted first and that in all likelihood emergency contraception and birth control will be targeted next," said Casas, 31, of Edinburg, Texas.

Casas and other Latinos on the front lines of providing abortions under increasingly restrictive state laws said that the leaked opinion signals an end to abortion access and that it would exact a heavy toll on Hispanics and other people of color.

Many say they've already been given a preview of what could be to come in states like Texas.

"These are dark times, and dark times are ahead of us," said Nancy Cárdenas Peña, the Texas director for policy and advocacy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. “But we’ve been in these situations before. ... We have to continue fighting."

Her group has been grappling with the fallout from Texas' ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and other legislation restricting abortion. Those who could scrape together money, time off work and child care have been trekking out of the state to end pregnancies.

'A future that will be dramatically worse'

“Each of these regulations, as far back as we have seen, have absolutely disproportionately affected women of color...and definitely low-income women, for sure,” said Marva Sadler, the senior director of clinical services for Whole Woman’s Health.

Its Texas clinics, in Fort Worth, McKinney, Austin and McAllen, provide abortions, and the clinics have also created virtual visits for women before they head out of state to obtain their abortions.

Sadler said Whole Woman’s Health has helped more than 47 women get out of Texas for abortions in the last 30 days.

Abortion rights advocates have scrambled to pull together money to help pay for Latinas and others who are traveling out of the state seeking abortions.

Texas made it illegal for abortion medications to be mailed, so some women are going out of state and the medication is being mailed there.

But many in the state's heavily Latino border regions have been unable to consider such alternatives. Those who are undocumented risk deportation if they travel more than 100 miles into the interior, where Border Patrol checkpoints are set up, or if they try to travel out of the country.

Tania Unzueta, the political director and a co-founder of the Latino advocacy group Mijente, said she has already seen the ripple effects of restrictive abortion legislation as more facilities are closed.

“I think about the immigrant women I met in the poultry plants in south Georgia, who have to drive hours to go to a clinic just to even get a checkup,” Unzueta said. “We’re talking about abortion, but this will impact access to reproductive health services in our communities.”

Dr. Herminia Palacio, the president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights think tank, said the leaked opinion “foreshadows a future that will be dramatically worse.”

“We know from decades of research that the impact will fall hardest on those who already struggle to access health care, including abortion,” Palacio said in a statement. “Even with Roe in place, affordable and accessible abortion care is a right that exists only on paper for many people who are marginalized and oppressed by structural inequities.”

Liza Fuentes, a principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, said that “it’s hard to believe, but it will get worse,” because “the people right now who can navigate these restrictions, they may not be able to after a full ban.”

"Something that's quite terrifying that we may see in a world where the Supreme court upholds some level of advanced restriction on abortion is that laws that require enforcement will be selectively enforced against Black and brown women," Fuentes said.

Lupe M. Rodríguez, the director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, noted the recent attempt to prosecute a Latina woman on a murder charge after authorities accused her of causing a person's death by self-induced abortion. The case eventually was dismissed.

"It's not a mistake this kind of criminalization is happening," Rodríguez said. "They're sending a signal to our community, who, again, is already afraid."

Miranda Aguirre, far right, stands with staff at the Planned Parenthood in El Paso, Texas.
Miranda Aguirre, far right, with staff members at the Planned Parenthood El Paso Health Center in El Paso, Texas.Courtesy of Planned Parenthood El Paso Health Center

Experts at the Guttmacher Institute estimate that 26 states “are certain or likely to quickly ban abortion to the fullest extent possible, in particular states clustered in the South, Midwest and the Plains,” if the Supreme Court ends up overturning Roe v. Wade.

Texas is one of those states. Should the Supreme Court strike down Roe v. Wade, a ban on all abortions in the state would go into effect in 30 days — such laws are known as “trigger laws.” There would be no exceptions for rape or incest and only limited exceptions when pregnancies place people at risk.

'It's a scary time'

In Florida, Estefany Londoño is one of dozens of reproductive justice advocates organizing a series of rallies across the country after the draft opinion was leaked.

"It's oppressive, and it's ridiculous," said Londoño, who was helping plan a rally with Planned Parenthood. "It's a scary time. People have different health circumstances."

In the leaked draft opinion, justices said they would overturn "not just Roe, but also Casey, so they're even trying to go after birth control," Londoño said.

She was referring to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a landmark 1992 case that helped uphold not only Roe v. Wade, but also protections for personal decisions about marriage, procreation and contraception.

‘We know what this looks like’

Unzueta of Mijente said some Latinos can have a sharpened understanding of the dangers behind abortion bans because of their experiences or insight into how such bans have affected women in Latin America and the Caribbean. Unzueta said her parents told her stories about the struggles her relatives in Mexico faced when they tried to get an abortion.

The executive director of the Women’s Equality Center, Paula Avila-Guillen, an international human rights lawyer, said the U.S. can take a cue from Latin America, which has had a long history of penalizing abortion but has had some changes in those laws.

“We know what this looks like and what the U.S.’s future has in store — forced births, unsafe abortions, unnecessary and entirely preventable death," Avila-Guillen said in a statement.

"Dealing so closely with the daily death and devastation of abortion bans is precisely what has fueled the current wave of decriminalizations of abortion in the region," Avila-Guillen said, referring to Latin America.

Unzueta, who is based in Chicago, said particular religious beliefs make some Latinos more likely to view abortion “as a moral issue rather than a health issue.”

A Pew Research Center survey found last year that 58 percent of Hispanics believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases, about the same as white people, 57 percent. Forty-two percent of Hispanics and 40 percent of white people thought it should always be illegal.

Alexis Bay, a co-founder and the board director of the Texas-based Frontera Fund, said a recent fundraiser replenished the group’s coffers to help women get abortions in other states. She said the group, a Rio Grande Valley based organization that provides money and information to those seeking abortions, is still asking for donations because an end to Roe v. Wade might mean sending more people farther away from Texas.

Even with their anxiety palpably higher, abortion rights advocates were trying to reassure those seeking abortions that they can still get services and that they hadn't given up trying to keep Roe v. Wade in place.

"This is not a decision yet, as horrible as it is. Abortion still is legal," Sadler said.

CORRECTION: (May 4, 2022, 11:43 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled Omar Casas’ hometown. It is Edinburg, Texas, not Edinburgh.

Suzanne Gamboa reported from San Antonio and Nicole Acevedo from New York.

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