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Experts say Texas’ abortion law GOP policies have an outsize effect on the poor

Forcing people to carry pregnancies that they can't afford contributes to "creating generational poverty,” said one reproductive justice advocate.
Image: A "Bans Off Our Bodies" protest at the Texas State Capitol.
A "Bans Off Our Bodies" protest at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Wednesday.Montinique Monroe / The New York Times via Redux

DALLAS — Hours after Texas’ restrictive abortion law went into effect Wednesday, Blair Wallace took to Houston’s Tranquility Park with some 60 other people in protest.

“It’s not a surprise to me that the Republican leadership at the Texas Legislature would allow something like this to go through,” said Wallace, a policy and advocacy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “We know the brunt of this will fall on our Black and brown communities and our poor communities the most.”

Wallace is one of many critics of Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy and allows anyone to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get the procedure after the time frame. 

Wallace, who worked with the ACLU of Texas to halt the bill, and others say it will make getting an abortion in Texas nearly impossible and disproportionately affect poor people who give birth, especially Black and Latino residents. People would have to drive 248 miles on average to undergo the procedure out of state, up from 12 miles in state, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that researches reproductive rights. 

People with money could fly out of state to get abortions. But for those with lower incomes, work obligations, lack of transportation, and financial struggles could make it far more difficult to leave Texas. As many as 8 of 10 people who seek abortions could be forced to continue their pregnancies, according to the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center, which partners with abortion centers and provides people with resources to access safe abortion services, said laws like Texas’ only perpetuate poverty for poor and Black and Latino people. 

“When systems are in place that force folks to have children that they cannot take care of and there’s no system in place to assist them with taking care of those children, nothing but a system that penalizes our parenting, you’re creating generational poverty,” Jones said.

Texas Republicans maintain that the abortion legislation is intended to save lives. Research shows that unintended pregnancies hold people back from completing their educations and getting and keeping jobs and even lead to poor health and economic outcomes for the children. People denied abortions are more likely to live in poverty, with economic instability and poor physical health.

A string of Republican-led measures that would disproportionately affect poor people around the country. Last year, President Donald Trump was voted out of the White House after months of historic anti-racism and police brutality protests. This year, in many states, Trump’s party has regrouped and enacted tough new laws about subjects ranging voting rights and Medicaid to education and abortion rights. 

By May, Republicans had introduced at least 253 restrictive voting bills in 43 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. As of last month, eight states had passed election laws that opponents say make it harder for people, placing restrictions on in-person voting to mail-in voting.

Officials have said the restrictions would silence Black voters and other voters of color, who are credited with powering Joe Biden’s presidential win. And as oppressed groups battle voter suppression, they must also contend with GOP efforts to limit Medicaid. At least 12 states, including Texas, Florida and Georgia, have refused to expand Medicaid, deciding to stick with Trump-era restrictions that allow work requirements and funding caps on health care for low-income recipients. 

“Poverty is a policy choice. It all seems very intentional,” said organizer and activist Johnathan Perkins, who co-hosts “Black&,” a podcast about identity and racism. “There’s no reason that there should be people starving to death in the wealthiest nation to ever exist. And the people who are in power benefit.

“The GOP has made these wedge issues, so they have to come up with laws and enforce them against the people they see as their enemies or not going to vote for them — i.e. Black people, poor people,” Perkins said. “That’s why gerrymandering is a thing.”

Gerrymandering has been a major concern for organizers and Democrats throughout this redistricting cycle. This year’s is the first redistricting process since the Supreme Court gutted key federal voting rights protections against discriminatory maps in 2013 and, in 2019, decided to allow partisan gerrymandering. As a result, advocates have warned that in states where they control the legislatures, Republicans could draw boundaries that would diminish the power of Black and Latino communities. 

A separate Texas law banning homeless encampments throughout the state went into effect Wednesday. The bill makes it a class C misdemeanor to camp in unapproved public spaces. The move comes shortly after the city of Austin reinstated its public camping ban, which voters approved this year, making it a class C misdemeanor punishable by an up to $500 fine. 

Organizers across the country who have worked to combat the GOP-led bills said they would only make life more difficult for poor people. Organizers have launched crusades against Republican-backed anti-protest bills and gerrymandering attempts and laws that would harm and criminalize unhoused people.

It is this organizing that Perkins maintains is key to combating legislation that would disproportionately affect poor people. 

“What we do is look to the people that are doing the good work on the ground of organizing,” Perkins said. “In order to combat what the GOP is doing, we have to trust, support and follow the Black and brown women who are doing the hard work.”

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