Whole Women’s Health (WWH), a group of clinics that provide abortion care and other reproductive health services, announced on September 8th that it will offer free abortions to women impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Texas for the entire month of September. They have stated that they will set up four locations in Texas in partnership with abortion funds like Lilith Fund and its own Stigma Relief Fund, where these abortion services will come at no cost to the patients.
The group said in their recent online statement, “during Hurricane Harvey, many of the clinics in Houston had to close, leaving women with very few options…continued political attacks on abortion access make an unwanted pregnancy particularly stressful in Texas — add that to the stress of dealing with hurricane aftermath.”
In crisis situations, women’s sexual and reproductive health care programs are often forgotten by disaster relief groups. Whole Women’s Health stated, “the need for abortion care does not stop for natural disasters.” The lack of sexual health facilities and aid for women during times of disasters and crises can cause higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and unsafe abortions and pregnancies. It has also been shown that high levels of sexual assault correlate with crisis zones.
As stated by Annie Gebhart, the training and technical assistance director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, “a disaster like a hurricane can exacerbate the factors that lead people to commit sexual assault, like poverty, displacement, lack of housing, and lack of a law enforcement presence.” This issue was brought to light after the sexual assault epidemic in emergency shelters that took place during Hurricane Katrina. The conditions of many of these shelters created an environment conducive to rampant sexual assault.
Even before the devastating damage that Harvey created for Texas, there were many barriers put in place for women in Texas looking to obtain safe and affordable abortions. In a statement made in August, Yvonne Gutierrez, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Texas, said “Gov. Abbott is hell-bent on cutting off access to reproductive health care, regardless of how many women he hurts.”
Texas lawmakers have recently passed anti-abortion legislation such as the House Bill 214, which restricts all private health insurance plans, as well as plans sold through the Affordable Care Act, from covering abortion services unless the life of the women is directly at risk. Due to this, women would have to buy supplemental health insurance if they felt like they would ever need or want an abortion.
Media Resources: Mic 9/8/17, Whole Women’s Health Blog 9/1/17, Vox 9/11/17, Feminist Newswire 9/7/17