By Sahare Wazirali, Amnesty International Activist
I have been spending a lot of time in the Texas state capitol these days. Why? Because the state legislature debated unnecessary and dangerous new legislation that threatens to restrict access to our sexual and reproductive rights.
Two Texas bills have achieved significant attention in the national news and if Texas Gov. Rick Perry signs the legislation into law, as he is expected to do, women across Texas will be denied the autonomy to make decisions about their bodies. As a human rights activist, I feel compelled to speak out against legislation that will have devastating consequences for the health of women and girls in Texas.
The bills recently passed by the Texas legislature, House Bill 2 (HB2) and Senate Bill 1 (SB1), violate women’s sexual and reproductive human rights by limiting access to legal abortion and equal access to health services.
Essentially, this legislation will close all but five abortion clinics in the state of Texas – that’s 37 out of 42 clinics that will be shuttered because they will have to meet unnecessary new standards equating them to ambulatory surgery centers. The five clinics that will survive will be concentrated in Texas’ major cities – Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. Women in El Paso, for instance, will have to travel 1,000 miles to the nearest abortion facility. The legislation also disproportionately affects both women of lower socioeconomic status and the more than one million Texas women who live in rural areas.
The bills impose new restrictions on doctors performing abortions, which will further limit the availability of health care providers and after 20 weeks of pregnancy, women will not be able to have abortions, even in cases of rape, incest or sexual assault – an unbelievable attack on women’s rights.
The violations of women and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights don’t stop there. The new law reaches far beyond undermining women’s access to legal abortion. The bills also deny women a number of critical health services provided at these facilities – services such as pap smears, annual exams, STD/STI screenings, contraception, family planning and sexual education services.
Without equal access to health care, including access to legal abortion, women may put their lives at risk by trying to get “back alley” abortions, which account for about 75,000 maternal deaths worldwide every year. Additionally, women who don’t receive preventative care like cancer screenings, vaccines and family counseling are more likely to develop sometimes grave health complications.
In a place like the United States where abortion is already legal, why is Texas trying to take us back years by stripping women of their rights to their bodies and their health care?
The movement to protect women’s health care has created an uprising of people bound together with the same philosophy about our state. The first day of my fight – June 25, 2013 – I stood in the middle of the capitol’s rotunda for six hours, chanting and rallying in support of State Senator Wendy Davis as she stood without break for 11 straight hours to oppose the original Senate Bill 5. On that day, there were hundreds of protesters – some rape survivors, some daughters of mothers who died during childbirth, some couples who were barely paying their way through college – but all who are personally fighting this battle for women’s rights.
On Friday, July 12, 2013, the evening of the Senate vote on HB2, thousands of opponents were lined up in the Capitol and outside the Capitol doors. Thousands. Texans realized that we have the power to stand up for the human rights of women and girls. Despite the fact that the House and the Senate passed this legislation, Texas’ women and their supporters haven’t backed down: we will be heard.