Gina Ortiz Jones Wants to End the Health-Care Fears of Texas’ 23rd District

"I know exactly what it’s like when your health insurance plan is … 'I hope you don't get sick,'” said Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democratic candidate running for Texas' 23rd Congressional District.

Ortiz Jones said she would oppose the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion services. YouTube

Like many across the United States, voters in Texas’ Congressional District 23 are worried about their health care.

“People either can’t afford it today, are fearful that they’re not going to be able to afford it tomorrow, or they physically can’t get to it,” said Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democratic candidate hoping to unseat Republican Rep. Will Hurd to represent the district in the U.S. Congress.

It’s a large district, spanning hundreds of miles and hugging roughly “40 percent of the [state’s] border with Mexico,” Ortiz Jones told Rewire.News in an interview. Its size means “there are some differences in health care and education outcomes based on if you live in San Antonio versus a rural part of the district, and health care is one of those areas where you see the disparity,” she said.

Ortiz Jones hopes that, if elected, her efforts in Congress could help steer the United States “toward a health-care system that covers everyone,” adding that Texas is “the most uninsured state in the country” thanks in part to state-level Republicans’ refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “You know, I can’t help but also think about the ways in which what is happening in Texas is going to have an outsized effect on the country given that one in ten kids in the country goes to school in Texas,” she added.

“I don’t think the quality of somebody’s care should be dependent on their income level,” Ortiz Jones said. “I think everybody deserves the opportunity to be healthy, to take care of themselves, their kids, or their aging parents.” To do that, Ortiz Jones supports a single-payer system, as noted on her campaign site, and “a good interim would at least be giving people a Medicare option once they turn 50-years old,” she said.

Ortiz Jones’ views on health care views are based in part on her own experiences. Ortiz Jones recounted how, “having been raised by a single mother, I know exactly what it’s like when your health insurance plan is … ‘I hope you don’t get sick.’” She remembers when her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer while Ortiz Jones, a military veteran, was deployed. “You hear the horror stories about how things like this bankrupt families,” she said. “And so I was obviously very concerned about my mother’s life, but I was also concerned about what this was going to be for us financially.”

Hurd does not feature health care on his campaign website. Last spring, Hurd voted against the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the GOP’s effort to repeal the ACA. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the GOP bill could have resulted in 24 million people losing their health insurance. But in his statement explaining his vote, Hurd gave mixed messages, claiming the ACA—which has helped millions gain access to insurance before GOP-led attacks on it began to reverse the upward trend—had done “the opposite” of making health care more affordable and accessible.

Though some have cited his vote against the GOP’s attempt to dismantle the ACA as proof of Hurd being “unafraid of bucking the GOP and the president himself,” according to analysis from FiveThirtyEight the Republican has voted in line with President Trump 95.7 percent of the time since Trump took office.

When it comes to reproductive rights, Ortiz Jones’ campaign site makes a clear statement of support. Her platform on “accessible affordable healthcare” includes a promise to work in Congress to “Ensure full, safe, and affordable access to reproductive health services for all women— including those in our rural communities challenged with limited access.”

In her interview with Rewire.News, Ortiz Jones called reproductive health care both “an economic issue” and “a social justice issue.”

“A woman has to be able to make decisions about her own body,” she said. “Any decision that a woman has to make should only be between her, her family, and her doctor, and that’s it …. I think people have to have the resources to plan for themselves as well as to plan for the economic strength of their own families.”

It’s another issue on which Ortiz Jones and Hurd have contrasting positions, the Democratic candidate said. Hurd is a reliable anti-choice vote in Congress, having supported bills to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation. Hurd’s office has referred to the lawmaker as a “pro-life conservative,” though his views on abortion rights aren’t featured on his campaign site.

The Hyde Amendment, an annual anti-choice budget rider that bans federal funding for abortion care and disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes, “is not something that I would support,” Ortiz Jones said. That’s in-line with the Democratic Party’s 2016 national platform, which for the first time called for the repeal of the anti-choice restriction.

“We have to again be smart about this issue and understand the outcomes as it relates to communities that are already underserved in a number of ways,” she continued. “And, unfortunately, when they are, that traditionally means that women and communities of color are underserved when it comes to … reproductive health services.”

In Ortiz Jones’ district, barriers to abortion care are immense. In 2014, 96 percent of counties in Texas had no abortion providers, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The ACLU of Texas estimates that “About 900,000 reproductive-age women in Texas live more than 150 miles from an abortion clinic.”

The state has been the epicenter of high-profile attacks on reproductive rights. That includes Texas’ notorious omnibus abortion bill, HB 2, parts of which were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016. The abortion restrictions still enforced in the state include state-directed counseling, a forced waiting period, a ban on telemedicine abortion, a parental consent and notification requirement for minors, and forced ultrasounds.

But to change things, Ortiz first need to win—and District 23 is the only congressional district in Texas considered to be a true swing seat. Ortiz Jones says she hopes to represent it because, “The short of it is, I’ve seen firsthand that challenge is universal—opportunity is not.”