Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images
The Rio-Grande valley is one of the poorest areas of our country. Prior to 2011, the women of the region depended on state-funded clinics for healthcare and family planning services. That was the year that the republican-held state legislature passed one of the leanest budgets in state history.
According to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the number of women receiving services in the region was reduced by 75% after the cuts.
Those were part of an effort by the republican-held state legislatures around the country to defund Planned Parenthood clinics, whether or not they performed abortions.
Jessica González Rojas is the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. She says The so-called “affiliate rule” was designed to punish clinics affiliated with abortion providers.
“It was an effort to curb women’s reproductive health access and access to family planning services such as contraception, pap smears and breast exams,” Rojas says.
The report also found that since many Latino families in the Rio Grande Valley lack health insurance, those family planning clinics were often the only place in the community women could get any health care at all.
“There’s longer and longer delays to accessing that care and less and less subsidies, so for the low income women women that we work with, they can’t afford the payments, they can’t afford access to the tests,” says Rojas.
After the cuts, Paula Saldaña lost her job as a community educator for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brownsville, Texas.
Now she continues to give workshops on reproductive health as a volunteer. She says the women she counsels have become desperate for screenings and medications.
“Between themselves they would say, ‘I have a friend that can get some from Mexico’ or ‘They sell some at the flea market,’ and of course I would try to tell them ‘You know, you really do need for it to be prescribed and it needs to be under the care of a doctor,” but they would turn around and they were right, ‘where do we go now? Where do we go now that is not going to charge me $500 or $600 dollars for a cheap biopsy?’”
Saldaña says she has no answers for the women under her care. There is nowhere she can send them. She even struggles to access her own care.
“I have not gotten a pap smear since my last baby was born and he’s going to be 3 in December,” she says “Cost is the main reason, I do have transportation but I have nowhere to go, the clinics I can access, but the appointments they can give me are for a whole year or six months away.”
Last spring, the republican-majority Texas legislature reinstated some of the family planning budget, but it’s uncertain whether the money restored will be enough to repair the damage done to the state’s reproductive health system.
“It’s heartbreaking,” says Leticia Van De Putte. She’s the Texas state senator that stood with Senator Wendy Davis during that 11 hour filibuster to block HB-2, legislation that would eventually pass to create new abortion regulations in Texas.
She says the cuts to the budget mean a complete lack of access for Latinas in rural communities. “We know that when women are able to access those family planning services, that they’re able to plan their pregnancies and plan their families,” says Van De Putte, “It seems to me that it would be very cost effective to our state if we would just make sure that women have the access to the reproductive health services that they desperately need.”
Last week, Van De Putte declared she will be seeking the democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor in 2014.
While Van de Putte was standing with Wendy Davis against HB-2, another Latino member of the Texas House of Representatives made a passionate speech in favor of the abortion law.
Jason Villaba says as an official, he is responsible for protecting people both outside and inside the womb.
“Take a look at the Republican perspective. We don’t do this as an attack on women’s reproductive rights, we do this because we believe we are in a battle to protect the most vulnerable in our society, the unborn,” he says.
He takes offense at the idea that the 2011 cuts were a sign that the Republican legislature was waging a war on women.
“So the option that we gave the clinics was either you can abandon your relationship with Planned Parenthood and establish your own clinics or we’re going to be forced to de-fund you because we already made this decision in a previous legislature under previous law that we are prohibited from funding those clinics that have Planned Parenthood resources.”
Villaba says his party has taken some first steps to give disadvantaged citizens adequate health care without relying on outside providers like Planned Parenthood.
“One of the ways we’re doing that is by looking at Texas-based clinics that were funded in the 2013 legislative session, we did put some money back into some clinics that were able to provide healthcare services for women.”
Senator Van de Putte believes that if reproductive rights are going to change in Texas, it will be because of Latinas. “If Latinas engaged around reproductive health … it would be over, it would be not just a different conversation, it would be a different outcome,” she says.
The obstacle, she says, is to convince Latinas that their votes matter.
“If they only would realize that their discussions could lead their other family members to be empowered enough to make the decisions different, so that the next generations of Latinas won’t have to face the same sorts of disrespect.”