Undocumented immigrants are forced to choose between deportation and abortion because of the restrictive new abortion law in Texas

abortion
Demonstrators hold banners in an abortion rights rally outside of the Supreme Court as the justices hear oral arguments in the June Medical Services v. Russo case on March 4, 2020 in Washington, DC.
  • Abortion seekers in Texas have been traveling out of state to get the procedure.
  • But some undocumented immigrants are stuck because of US Border Patrol outposts across the state.
  • Undocumented immigrants in Texas likely will have to choose between deportation and an abortion.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Since Texas rolled out its restrictive abortion law SB8, Texans have flocked to neighboring states to receive an abortion. But that option doesn't exist for a large swath of people.

Undocumented immigrants and people without proper paperwork have been hit especially hard by the law, which went into effect September 1.

The new legislation prohibits anyone from obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which most people do not yet know they are pregnant. The law has forced some abortion providers in the state to turn away patients seeking the procedure.

And patients who've so far been able to travel out of state to bypass the law might generally be of higher socioeconomic status. People who are undocumented, reproductive rights experts say, have more difficulty obtaining an abortion outside the state than other groups.

Undocumented individuals in the southern portion of Texas are unable to travel out of state because of inland immigration checkpoints, located about 100 miles from the border between the US and Mexico. At these checkpoints, US Customs and Border Protection officers might ask for identification to prove citizenship. Individuals who don't have proper paperwork risk deportation, according to Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF).

Additionally, low-income people who may not have proper documentation like a valid driver's license or a US passport are unable to leave the state.

"No matter what your position on immigration is, by anybody's standards these are citizens who have every right to be here, but don't happen to have ever had any need for that kind of official identification," Ragsdale said. "And now they're up a creek as well."

The NAF, which created a designated hotline for people calling from Texas after SB8 passed, is "hearing from the poorest patients with the fewest resources," Ragsdale told Insider.

That includes the vast population of undocumented immigrants who reside in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

About 1.7 million undocumented people live in Texas, according to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute. Hundreds of thousands live in the Rio Grande Valley, which has been characterized as one of the unhealthiest regions in the United States due to a combination of high poverty and low education rates.

SB8 is forcing people to make difficult choices

For weeks, the NAF has fielded calls from overwhelmed Texans seeking an abortion, including patients who are undocumented and desperately in need of options.

"It's just routinely, day after day, people being panicked and despairing, and also furious," Ragsdale said.

One woman who called the hotline said she has a job and young children that she can't turn away from. "You could charter me a private jet and I would not be able to travel out of state for this care at this time," the woman said, according to Ragsdale.

People are encountering such competing priorities because SB8 has complicated the way they think and go about obtaining reproductive care. As a result, they're going to have to make difficult choices and determine whether an abortion outweighs other things like potentially facing deportation or losing their jobs, experts told Insider.

Already, people have been making those difficult choices. Some patients have crossed state lines to receive an abortion, said Dr. Kristina Tocce, medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

"I have seen patients that have expressed such fear, terror about traveling such long distances and about being pulled over and questioned," she told Insider, saying patients have had to take a serious look at the risks.

"What if I can't answer those questions appropriately and I get in trouble?" she added, recalling some of the worries people have expressed. "That additional fear of having an interaction with law enforcement during this journey is so hard."

The process is also stressful for out-of-state doctors who perform abortions.

With patients from Texas traveling long distances to get an abortion - either by driving for hours to get to a clinic, or flying in - doctors have to "make sure that patients get in and get out in a timely fashion so that we don't sabotage their flight plan," Tocce said.

"That's something that you don't typically deal with when you're providing services."

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