The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established abortion as a constitutional right, could have a disproportionate impact on lower-income communities and people of color in the Central Valley, experts said Friday.
The ruling means that states nationwide will now be able to ban abortion outright. In California, meanwhile, abortion will remain legal, with state leaders vowing to protect the right to terminate a pregnancy.
Yet the court’s ruling could mean abortion resources “will not be as accessible” to Valley communities that already have limited access to health care, said Lara Jiménez, executive director at California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, a statewide organization that advocates for reproductive rights.
More people are now expected to come to California seeking abortions, Jiménez said, and that could exacerbate a shortage of medical providers in the Valley, lead to longer wait times for patients and force Valley residents to seek abortions and reproductive care elsewhere in the state.
“Resources in the Central Valley are usually not as accessible or good as what we might be able to access in the metro areas of California,” she said. “What we are expecting, unfortunately, for the Central Valley is that people will be needing to travel (for resources).”
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which provides health care services in mid-California and northern Nevada, has already experienced an increase in demand for services since other states began restricting abortion access, according to Socorro Santillan, the organization’s director of public affairs. Following today’s ruling, the organization is anticipating a 3,000% increase in patients traveling to California for services, she said.
She said 49% of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s patients are Latino and 68% live at 100% of the federal poverty level. The organization is the first and only means of health care for many immigrant patients, she added.
“Denying the right to abortion is denying access to essential health care,” that one in four women will need or want use during their reproductive years, Santillan said in an email to The Fresno Bee.
The increased demand for care could also mean that some Valley residents might not get the abortion services they were seeking, said Jiménez of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. Unwanted or unsafe pregnancies can have life-long impacts on a person’s physical and mental health, economic standing, education and career.
“Latinas and folks of color specifically are being very severely impacted by the overturning of Roe,” Jiménez said. “We need to realize the cascading effect that this (lack of abortion access) has when someone is forced to continue with a pregnancy that they have decided for themselves that they do not want or are not ready for.”
In Fresno County, Latinos make up 53% of the total population and nearly 60% of the population ages 0 to 17.
Pro-life advocates call for better prenatal care
Yet pro-life advocates in the region said the Supreme Court’s ruling highlights the need to improve access to prenatal care for lower-income people and those on Medi-Cal.
“Lack of access to prenatal care is a really serious problem in the San Joaquin Valley,” said John Gerardi, CEO of Right to Life Central California. It’s frustrating, he said, that the state is “bending over backward to provide abortions instead of prenatal care.”
A bill making its way through Sacramento, SB 1142, would require the state to inform and educate the public about how to access abortion services and create a fund to help low-income pregnant people access abortions.
But Gerardi said the state legislature’s push to support abortion services comes at the expense of funding prenatal care in communities of color.
“I find it grimly ironic that Governor Newsom will pass SB 1142 with lightning speed while dilly-dallying for three years to enact universal healthcare coverage, which was his big promise in 2018,” he said.
Gerardi said that a lot of people view pro-life advocates as only caring about fetuses and not caring about women or children after they are born.
“That is not true,” he said. “We are talking the talk and walking the walk.”
An estimated 71% of Latinos in California opposed overturning Roe v. Wade, according to a July 2021 poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. The poll also found that 71% of Central Valley residents opposed overturning the law.
Abortions remain legal in California
Moving forward, Jiménez of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice said the state must ensure that everybody in California has equitable access to abortion services, regardless of their race, income or whether they live in a rural or urban area.
She noted that even in the Golden State, “access (to abortion) is not 100% perfect or practical for everybody here.” Some 40% of California counties had no clinics that provided abortions in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization focused on sexual and reproductive health rights worldwide.
“We need to continue addressing those issues in addition to language barriers and provider bias,” Jiménez said. “All kinds of people are still going to need, continue to seek and obtain abortions.”
Limiting people’s access to health care, including reproductive health care, could also have long-term ramifications for the Central Valley, said Genoveva Islas, founder and CEO of Cultiva La Salud, which advocates for health equity in the San Joaquin Valley, and a Fresno Unified School District board member.
“It is essential that if we as a county want to have the healthiest population possible, that we make early access to health care available to all women in our community,” Islas said. “Latinas stand to lose a lot if there is erosion in what is currently accessible and available to them.”
Fresno Bee reporter Tim Sheehan and McClatchy reporter Gillian Brassil contributed to this report.