A Supreme Court Abortion Case Could Disproportionately Hurt Latinas, But Spanish-Language News Shows Aren't Telling Them

A Supreme Court Abortion Case Could Disproportionately Hurt Latinas, But Spanish-Language News Shows Aren't Telling Them

››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & SHARON KANN

On March 2, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a case that will determine the constitutionality of a Texas anti-choice law (HB 2) that severely limits women's access to abortion and medical care and disproportionately harms Latinas. Media Matters analyzed Spanish-language TV news coverage of the case and found virtually no mention of how the Supreme Court's decision could affect Latinas.

Supreme Court Sets Hearing Date On Texas' Dangerous Abortion Restriction Law

Supreme Court Will Hear Challenge To Texas Abortion Restriction Law On March 2, 2016. Called the "highest-stakes abortion case in a generation," Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt involves a Texas law that places requirements on abortion providers that have been deemed "medically unnecessary" by both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The law's restrictions have already caused about half of Texas' abortion clinics to close and will likely force the ultimate closure of "more than 75 percent of Texas abortion facilities and deter new ones from opening, " according to the plaintiff. [MSNBC, 12/13/16]

LA Times: Texas Challenge Has Wide-Reaching Implications For Roe v. Wade. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Supreme Court's decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt could impact the "larger question about the nature of abortion rights set out in the Roe vs. Wade decision." In particular, the article noted that the court may have to resolve the question of whether abortion is an unassailable constitutional right. [Los Angeles Times, 12/29/15]

Clinic Closures And Restrictions Have A Disproportionate Impact On Latinas' Access To Care

NLIRH: HB 2 Would Function As "A Complete Ban On Abortion" For Texas Latinas Who "Face Severe Burdens In Accessing Reproductive Healthcare." In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) argued that the additional barriers to abortion access created by HB 2 would function as "a complete ban on abortion" for many Texas women. In particular, the organization explained that due to the "significant geographic, transportation, infrastructure, and cost challenges" Latinas already face when seeking medical care, clinic closures caused by HB 2 would create "severe burdens in accessing reproductive healthcare." Citing an earlier district court decision, NLIRH argued that "there is no question" HB 2 would have a disparate impact on Latinas due to the majority Latino populations of the Texas counties most impacted by clinic closures. From NLIRH's amicus brief:

Texas Latinas already face significant geographic, transportation, infrastructure, and cost challenges in accessing health services. Many are forced to forego medical care when they are ill because they cannot take time off from work or school, or secure childcare. Latinas living with domestic violence or concerned over the immigration status of themselves or family members face additional hurdles in accessing reproductive healthcare.

The District Court found that clinic closures caused by the challenged provisions "would operate for a significant number of women in Texas just as drastically as a complete ban on abortion."

[...]

The District Court found that Texas Latinas, especially, but not exclusively, those in the Valley, face severe burdens in accessing reproductive healthcare because of the challenged provisions, observing that "women in the border communities of the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso will be affected most heavily" by H.B. 2's strictures due to longer travel distances (in some cases exceeding 500 miles), higher-than-average poverty levels, and other issues uniquely associated with minority and immigrant populations." ... The Circuit Court credited these findings, acknowledging "the difficulties that women in the Rio Grande Valley faced" counseled against fully upholding H.B. 2's restrictions as to the McAllen facility. ... While neither court made explicit that its findings applied to Latinas, there is no question that they do: 81% of El Paso County's population is Latino, and in the four counties that comprise the majority of the Valley, the Latino population varies between 87% and 95%.

[...]

Texas Latinas have built vibrant communities that have shown improvement in job growth and economic development since the recession of 2008-2009. Despite these gains, H.B. 2's impact is acute because of the day-to-day struggles many Latinas encounter when seeking to exercise their reproductive rights. In Texas, there is a dire shortage of healthcare facilities and providers in predominantly Latino communities. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the country, and Texas Latinos are more than twice as likely as whites to be uninsured.

Additionally, the lack of public and private transportation creates a major barrier to accessing health services, especially in rural areas. ... This is particularly true in the string of remote, unincorporated and largely immigrant communities known as colonias in border areas like the Valley and West Texas that often lack paved roads.

[...]

Border patrol agents and internal immigration checkpoints on Texas roads further impede undocumented women and women with undocumented family members from traveling outside their communities, even if they need healthcare or other essential services. With the cooperation of Texas law enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol ("CBP") currently operates checkpoints in South and West Texas that cut off El Paso County and the Valley from the rest of the state.

Finally, because of high unemployment rates and poverty in Latina communities, women with jobs are reluctant to jeopardize them by asking for time off. Many Texas Latinas live below the poverty line. This includes 23% of El Paso County residents and between 34.8 and 40% of residents in the Valley. The national poverty rate is 15.4%.

Brownsville and McAllen have been named the two poorest cities in the United States. Women in these areas will frequently forgo medical appointments - even when they are sick or require treatment - simply to keep their jobs. ... Even if she can get time off from work, a woman with young children may be unable to afford or obtain the childcare she needs to travel. [Amicus Curiae Brief of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, 1/4/16]

Spanish-Language News Shows Have Virtually Ignored How SCOTUS Decision Could Negatively Impact Latinas

Nationally Broadcast Spanish-Language News Shows Ignored Negative Impact On Latinas. Media Matters analyzed coverage of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt on the nationally broadcast daily Spanish-language news shows -- Noticiero Univisión and Noticiero Telemundo -- and found virtually no mentions of the disproportionate impact the case could have on Latinas.

Telemundo-Affiliated Local Stations In Texas Mentioned Negative Impact On Women. In contrast, at the local level, 45 percent of the stories from Texas Spanish-language news stations about the case mentioned that it threatens the abortion rights of more than 5 million women in Texas. No specific mentions were made about Latinas, however, or the fact that they would be affected much more than any other demographic. The local news shows that touched upon the impact of the case are affiliated with Telemundo.

Clinic Closures' Impact Already "Painfully Palpable" In Texas And Will Continue If Court Doesn't Overturn HB 2

Austin Chronicle: "The Destruction Inflicted By HB 2 Is Painfully Palpable" For Texas Women. In a January 29 article for The Austin Chronicle, news editor Mary Tuma detailed the severe consequences for women if the Supreme Court upholds HB 2. According to Tuma, clinic closures were a "direct result of the difficulty in obtaining admitting privileges" to hospitals for abortion providers and of clinics' inability to "subsidize costly building changes" to meet ASC standards. She argued that "the destruction inflicted by HB 2 is painfully palpable" for Texas women as wait times have compelled many women to attempt self-inducing abortions. From The Austin Chronicle (emphasis added):

Nearly three years later, the destruction inflicted by HB 2 is painfully palpable.

While 41 abortion clinics existed in Texas prior to HB 2, only 19 remain today.The closures, a direct result of the difficulty in obtaining hospital admitting privileges for physicians and an inability to subsidize costly building changes, came in waves. Eight facilities shuttered or stopped offering abortion care after the bill passed. Another 11 clinics did so when it was enforced in November 2013. Over the next two years some clinics closed then reopened as oscillating court rulings pulled providers in different directions, while others shuttered for good. If the final ASC provision of the law goes into effect, as few as 10 clinics, concentrated in five major metro cities, are expected to serve all 5.4 million reproductive-age women in Texas. In Austin, only two abortion clinics -- Planned Parent­hood's South Austin Health Center, an ASC, and Austin Women's Medical Center -- remain today out of the four in operation prior to the rollout of HB 2. Planned Parenthood will be the only center in Austin offering abortions if the ASC requirement is upheld.

[...]

"Clearly, we are trying to be prepared and take whatever steps we need to expand services to meet the demand for women," says Sarah Wheat, vice president of community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. "But these restrictions are too onerous. There should be more than one provider to service our community in Austin; there should be the full network of health providers that existed before the law passed." In a troubling preview of what may come, Planned Parenthood experienced a staggering 660% increase in callers seeking to schedule an abortion appointment when the ASC rule temporarily went into effect in October 2014.

More women would also be pushed from the first trimester of pregnancy to the second, raising the annual number of those later-term abortions from about 6,600 to nearly 12,400, a potentially dangerous prospect. "The increase in second-trimester abortion is concerning from a public health perspective. While they are very safe, they're associated with a higher risk of complications compared to early abortions and are more expensive," says Dr. Daniel Gross­man, a TxPEP co-investigator. [The Austin Chronicle, 1/29/16]

Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP): HB 2 Clinic Closures "Delayed, And In Some Cases Prevented Altogether," Abortion Access For Many Women. In a new study, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) interviewed a number of women whose access to abortion care was severely impeded as a result of HB 2. Through these interviews TxPEP found that women's health care was "delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether" from obtaining an abortion. Investigators also noted that the subjects not only "reported a lack of information and confusion" in the wake of clinic closures, but also that once they had located an affordable provider, many "faced substantial added travel and hotel costs when seeking abortion services." [Texas Policy Evaluation Project, 1/19/16]

The New York Times: Texas Abortion Restrictions "Have Already Caused About Half Of The State's 41 Abortion Clinics To Close" And Will Relegate Services To Just Four Urban Areas. In a September 3 article,The New York Times explained that parts of Texas' restrictive HB 2 law "have already caused about half of the state's 41 abortion clinics to close." It notes that Texas abortion providers fighting portions of the law say that if "the contested provisions take effect ... the number of clinics will again be halved," and those remaining would be "clustered in four metropolitan areas":

Other parts of the law have already caused about half of the state's 41 abortion clinics to close. If the contested provisions take effect, Wednesday's filing [from state abortion providers] said, the number of clinics will again be halved.

The remaining clinics, the brief said, would be clustered in four metropolitan areas: Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

"There would be no licensed abortion facilities west of San Antonio," the brief said. The only clinic south of San Antonio, in McAllen, it added, would have "extremely limited capacity." [The New York Times, 9/3/15]

Methodology

Media Matters used TVeyes and IQ media to search Univisión and Telemundo coverage between November 13, 2015, and February 23, 2016, for the terms "Corte Suprema" or "Suprema Corte" with "Hellerstedt," "aborto," or "Texas" and "Latinas" or "Hispanas," as well as "aborto" with "Suprema" and "Texas" to analyze all relevant local content regarding coverage of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt

The start date was the day that the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case. Reruns and teases for upcoming segments were excluded. Noticias Texas aired the same content in several Univision-affiliated local stations on November 13, 2015, and was counted only once.

Reruns and teases for upcoming segments were excluded.

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