Opinion: Supreme Court must protect Latinas' health

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in what has been called the most important abortion case in a generation. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a clinic that provides abortions in Texas is suing the state’s commissioner of health, John Hellerstedt, over a law that imposes restrictions on abortion providers.

Since Texas passed House Bill 2 (HB 2) in 2013, the law has been challenged and now is before the high court.

In the period of time while it was in effect – before being blocked temporarily by the Supreme Court – about half of Texas’ 40 abortion clinics closed.

— Raul Reyes

Although the law’s supporters say HB 2 is necessary to safeguard women’s health, this position is not supported by medical experts or scientific evidence. HB 2 is a law that adversely affects the health and wellbeing of Latinas in the Lone Star State. If the Court upholds this law, it would chip away at the constitutional right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade in 1973.

There are two provisions of HB 2 that are under scrutiny by the Supreme Court. One is a requirement that any doctor performing abortions in a clinic have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital, and the other is a requirement that clinics meet the standards of surgical centers. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

It may sound reasonable, but reality is a different matter. In fact, HB 2 is an attempt by Texas legislators to deny women access to safe and legal abortions.

Texas lawmakers created the admitting privileges requirement for abortions, yet procedures that are statistically more risky are not similarly regulated. There is no admitting privileges requirement for performing liposuction, colonoscopies, laser eye surgeries, or vasectomies; these can all be done in doctor’s offices and clinics.

In a brief opposing HB 2, the American Medical Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted that abortion is “one of the safest medical procedures performed in the U.S.”  More than 90 percent of abortions in the U.S. are done in outpatient settings, and less than 0.3 percent run the risk of serious complications.

What’s more, numerous public health organizations state that the requirement for surgical-quality facilities is unnecessary and serves no legitimate purpose. The facilities requirement would force clinics to do hugely expensive renovations, while subjecting them to rules on everything from soap to plumbing to fire equipment.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association brief noted that “legal abortions performed in Texas prior to HB 2 met or exceeded safety expectations for outpatient medical procedures.”

We do have an idea of the real-life impact of HB 2. In the period of time while it was in effect – before being blocked temporarily by the Supreme Court – about half of Texas’ 40 abortion clinics closed. If the law is allowed to stand, it is likely that the second-largest state in the country, by population and size, will be left with just 10 clinics that provide abortions.

Sadly, the group that is most likely to be negatively impacted by HB 2 is Latinas. There are 2.5 million Latinas of reproductive age in Texas, many of whom already face financial, transportation, immigration, and childcare issues when accessing health care. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health believes HB 2 would only make this situation worse – and they are joined in their opposition to the law by nine other national and local Hispanic advocacy groups. Together they stress that this law will make it harder for Latinas to obtain a safe abortion, and might lead some women to attempt dangerous home remedies and self-induced abortions.

Consider that if HB 2 is upheld, El Paso County – which is 81 percent Latino – will not have a single abortion provider.

True, many people remain opposed to abortion on religious grounds. However, abortion is legal in the United States — and state legislatures should not be allowed to craft stealthy ways to undermine this right. The precedent established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) was that states cannot place restrictions that amount to an “undue burden” on access to abortion, including “unnecessary health regulations.” No wonder the editorial boards of newspapers like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and USA Today have all condemned HB 2. And polling shows that most Latinos think that women should have the right to make their own decisions about their bodies — even if they do not agree with those decisions themselves.

The constitutional rights of Latinas and other women must not be compromised. The Supreme Court should strike down Texas’ unnecessary, dangerous law.