San Antonio, Texas (CNN) – An abortion fund that helps hundreds of women in the southernmost region of Texas each year stopped responding to its hotline after one of the country’s strictest bans went into effect this week.
“Our very existence is a risk. The fact that we exist as an organization puts us at risk (of civil lawsuits),” said Zeana Zamora, executive director of Frontera Fund. The group helps people in the Rio Grande Valley, an impoverished region where the majority of Americans of Mexican origin live, access abortion services.
The new abortion law along with laws relating to public education and proposed legislation that restricts access to voting they are part of a series of measures that will have a major impact on the lives of people of color. Civil rights advocates and some lawmakers say people of color are driving population growth in the state and measures enacted by Republican lawmakers will have dire consequences.
Texas is among seven states and territories where the proportion of non-Hispanic whites in the population is below 50%, according to the Census Bureau. There were 11.4 million Texans who identified as Hispanic in the 2020 census, making the group almost as large as the non-Hispanic white demographic in the state.
Thomas Sáenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican-American Educational and Legal Defense Fund, said it is clear that the state is in a demographic transition, just as California, New Mexico and Arizona have been before. It is making those in power feel threatened, and the new measures are a negative response to demographic change, he says.
“All of these are laws, at least in part, they are designed to continue a pattern of discrimination against the Latino community,” Saenz said.
For Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream, the abortion law and the voter restriction bills reflect the policies and positions of conservatives on immigration.
“What is happening in Texas is a deliberate attack by far-right politicians who will do anything to stifle black, brown, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities both in Texas and in other Republican-controlled states across the country,” he said Martínez Rosas.
For the sake of our existence, “Republicans see us as threats to their white supremacist agenda.”
Most abortions were performed on women of color
The state law prohibiting abortions at six weeks of pregnancy went into effect Wednesday, leaving providers and patients fearful for their future.
President Joe Biden launched a federal effort in response to the law, calling it an “unprecedented assault on women’s constitutional rights,” after the Supreme Court denied a request by abortion providers to freeze it.
Black, Asian, and Hispanic people made up the majority of people who underwent abortions in Texas, according to 2019 state data.
In South Texas, a region with a predominantly Hispanic population, many women already had limited options when it came to abortion care. There is only one clinic in the region and the costs related to the procedure are not affordable for many, Zamora said.
A procedure in McAllen costs up to $ 800, which is considerably higher than in other cities, and women often struggle with additional costs including lost wages, transportation and child care, she said.
A spokeswoman for the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen said clinic staff performed more than 1,600 abortion procedures last year. Frontera Fund helped 400 people seeking abortion services, and only a few traveled out of state to receive care, Zamora said.
“Our patients are scared and confused and desperately trying to figure out what they can do to have an abortion. We don’t know what will happen next. Our staff and providers are so scared,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.
Cristina Gómez, 37, decided not to have children a couple of years ago. Some of the reasons behind his decision were climate change and his student loan debt. For her, the ban makes her feel deprived of her rights and that her rights are being taken away from her.
“The decision to make decisions for my own body is made by people who don’t know me, who don’t care about me,” said Gomez, who is the director of development for Annie’s List, a political action committee dedicated to electing progressive women. and pro-right to abortion at the state level in Texas.
Gomez is concerned that the law in Texas is a potential precursor to national legislation.
“The national Republican Party treats Texas like a Petri dish. They put their oppressive policies and ideologies to the test to see if they can pass them in the state legislature,” Gomez said.
The law scrutinizes the social studies curriculum
Some teachers in Texas they fear what will happen to them if a lesson “touches racism tangentially” because of a new law restricting discussions of race and history in schools.
HB3979, one of the legislative efforts to ban critical race theory in American classrooms, says that social studies teachers cannot “require” or include in their courses the concept that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex “or the concept that” an individual, by virtue of his race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. “
It also notes that “a teacher cannot be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial public policy or social affairs issue.” Teachers, under the bill, cannot demand or award additional credit for a student’s political activism.
Renee Blackmon, president of the Texas Council on Social Studies, said teachers weren’t teaching critical race theory as some lawmakers argued. However, some professors are hesitating and wondering if some people would think that a lesson on slavery, which is part of the state’s standard curriculum, is about critical race theory.
Alejandra López, 35, president of the San Antonio Teachers Union, said she did not feel her community was represented or valued when she attended public schools in San Antonio as a child. Since becoming an educator, she has tried to change that and developed training to help teachers reflect on how their lessons approach students’ identities and allow them to explore them.
Lopez said the union will continue to offer those trainings despite the law because it is “the right thing to do for our students and our communities” and the union will defend educators who may be accused of breaking the law.
More restrictions on voting rights expected
Earlier this week, the state legislature passed a bill that would impose new restrictions on voting and sent it to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign it into law.
Senate Bill 1 restricts the hours counties can offer early voting between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and prohibits car voting and 24-hour early voting.
Democratic state Representative Christina Morales, one of several lawmakers who fled the state for weeks this summer to prevent the House from having the necessary quorum to vote on the bill, said the legislation was one of the most racist things she had heard in the Texas Capitol.
The bill “is about making sure the white vote is counted, and not the black and brown,” said Morales, whose district covers parts of Harris County.
Harris County is home to Houston and one of the cities that offered direct voting and 24-hour early voting last year. Tens of thousands of people who cast their votes used self-service centers, and more than half of them were black, Latino or Asian, according to Morales.
It was an option for many people who did not have the ability to wait hours in line. His niece, Morales recalled, waited four hours to vote during the last presidential primary election.
“How many people can wait in line for four hours? If you have children at home, you have a family at home. Maybe you have chores for the children, maybe you have to go to work, maybe you just need to rest, take medicine.” Morales said.
Claudia Yoli Ferla, executive director of the MOVE Texas Action Fund, one of the groups that opposed the voting restriction legislation for months, said “voting freedom” took a “hard hit” this week.
Lawmakers focused on reforms that made it easier for people of color and people with disabilities to participate in the electoral process, but organizers are redoubling their efforts to ensure that people continue to participate.
“Our generation is more diverse than ever. We are young, we are black, we are brown. We are the largest and most diverse constituency in history. We are committed and we are powerful,” Ferla said.
– CNN’s Rachel Jafanza contributed to this report.