Under Anti-Choice Leadership, Undocumented (and Documented) People Must ‘Get Informed’

Learn what’s going on in your state, and advocate for your rights and the rights of your community so that nobody is left behind, say reproductive rights advocates.

An activist at a Whole Woman's Health rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court holds a "Basta El Engaño" ("Stop the Sham") sign, referring to a call to action against Texas legislators' claims that abortion restrictions would protect women's health. Stephen Gosling Photography on behalf of NLIRH

One of the primary demands of organizers behind last weekend’s widely attended Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and its sister marches, was reproductive freedom, including abortion access.

“We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services,” the organizers’ statement read. “This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.”

There have always been barriers to accessing reproductive health services for low-income women of color, including undocumented women. But communities fear that under President Trump, things will worsen and abortion access may become nearly impossible for some. In light of that concern, reproductive rights advocates are encouraging everyone to stay informed of their rights and to advocate for their communities.

“Right now, it feels like every day is a different day with so many unknown factors,” Cristina Aguilar, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), told Rewire. “We are on the heels of the Roe anniversary and coming off of the women’s marches, but we are also seeing threats against refugees, immigrants, and undocumented people,” in the form of Wednesday’s executive orders that put lives in imminent danger. Aguilar said that after yesterday’s orders, her organization is trying to balance hope and fear.

At various times in his public life, Trump said he was pro-choice. During his presidential campaign, however, he took a hardline anti-choice stance, going so far as to say that women should face “some form of punishment” for abortion should it be criminalized (which he later wavered on). When asked directly by 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl if he would appoint Supreme Court judges with the express goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, Trump said he would appoint “pro-life” judges and that, essentially, if the landmark ruling was overturned, states would regulate abortion individually. A person living in a state where abortion has become illegal could “go to another state,” Trump said.

Except it’s not that easy; interstate travel for those living at the intersection of two groups the Trump administration appears hell-bent on discriminating against—immigrants and women—is even more difficult and burdensome. In some cases, it will even put their safety at risk.

As we have seen with Texas’ HB 2, which contains multiple abortion restrictions resulting in more than half of the state’s clinics closing, undocumented women have experienced extreme barriers to accessing abortion when forced to travel within the state to visit a clinic. Some have to drive 100 miles to their nearest clinic, if they have a car to do so, the necessary funds available, and can take time off of work. There is also the matter of fearing deportation due to the dozens of Border Patrol checkpoints that traverse the state of Texas. The challenges will only increase when undocumented people are forced to leave the state for an abortion.

“For undocumented women … leaving the state can mean getting detained, and leaving the country means not being able to return to the U.S.,” Aguilar said, referring to the U.S. policy barring people who have been ordered deported from returning for up to ten years. “What I’m afraid of is seeing more women seek out illegal, underground care. We already know women, because of the barriers they experience, are going through unsafe measures to access abortion when Roe is in place. But if it’s overturned and undocumented women, in particular, are forced to seek out this illegal, underground care, we are going to see women lose their lives.”

Ana Rodriguez DeFrates, the Texas Latina Advocacy Network policy and advocacy director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), one of more than 40 organizations that filed an amicus brief in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, told Rewire back in March, “without question, those most affected by HB 2 were people already adversely affected by current health-care practices and immigration laws.” 

For undocumented women, overturning Roe v. Wade would be like applying some of the circumstances of HB 2 to the entire country. And as more states move to criminalize abortion, make access more difficult, and severely limit the situations in which an abortion can be obtained, it raises the question: Would overturning Roe v. Wade even change anything for most undocumented women?

As Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo wrote last year, “It’s hard to think of one of the many nightmare scenarios of what life would be like in a post-Roe world that isn’t already taking place somewhere in this country.” More than half of all states qualify as “hostile” to abortion rights, meaning they have at least four of the major reproductive health-care restrictions on the books, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Even in supposedly “progressive” states like California, which is often referred to as one of the best states for reproductive rights in the country, abortion access remains an issue for undocumented women. As Rewire reported nearly a year ago in March, the process of obtaining an abortion as an undocumented woman living in a more rural area of California is complicated. Undocumented women in these areas often work in fields and live in migrant camps, which makes obtaining the passport that some clinics require as a valid form of ID difficult. In rural areas of California, clinics are also still few and far between. If state legislatures attack reproductive health care as aggressively as advocates assume they will, these attacks will only further limit what services are made available from clinic to clinic.

NLIRH’s senior director of government relations, Ann Marie Benitez, told Rewire that while she and her colleagues are concerned about attacks on Roe, they’re really paying attention to what’s happening at the state level.

“Since 2010, there have been over 330 pieces of legislation implemented at the state-level regarding abortion restrictions,” Benitez said. “What we have now, and what we expect to see more of, is a fight we’ve already been fighting: continued attacks on abortion and access. We anticipate things getting tougher around the country.”

Benitez expects to see states “emboldened by Trump,” though in some areas of the country where NLIRH has strong networks—like Texas and Florida—it’s difficult to see how things could get any worse, the senior director said.

“Sadly, where we see the strictest laws and the most barriers are the same states where we see large numbers of low-income women of color. These are the people who bear the brunt of these restrictions—and that’s true across the board, no matter where in the country,” she said.

Aguilar added, “Undocumented women and families are simply not able to get the health care they need. This has incredibly negative health outcomes and denies undocumented women the same right to agency, to bodily autonomy, and to personal decision-making when it comes to getting the services and support to prevent a pregnancy, terminate a pregnancy, or be able to have a healthy pregnancy. The policies that make it tough for undocumented women to get an abortion also make it hard for [them] to plan a pregnancy or to become a parent.”

After Trump won the election, some women scrambled to get long-acting birth control, fearing their reproductive choices would be limited under his administration. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights saw spikes in donations. It is clear there is fear in the air, and for good reason. In response, advocates are encouraging communities to stay mobilized about the policies that will hit hardest the most marginalized in our society.

COLOR is focusing on education. The organization has been co-hosting “Know Your Rights” forums for immigrant and undocumented communities. Now more than ever, Aguilar said, advocacy is crucial.

Like COLOR, Benitez said that an integral part to NLIRH’s work is informing affected people of the resources that are available. Under the Trump administration, this is what NLIRH plans to continue doing.

“Once folks are educated … more people than not, no matter their immigration status, become galvanized and turn into their own advocates. That’s a beautiful thing I’ve seen time and time again,” Benitez said. “As we move into this administration, that’s what I’d say to documented and undocumented folks: Get educated. Learn what’s going on in your state, and advocate for your rights and the rights of your community so that nobody is left behind.”