Perceptions of solidly conservative Texas shifted dramatically in late 2012, when President Barack Obama won a landslide re-election largely thanks to the 71 percent of Latino voters who supported him. Democrats immediately seized on the opportunity, making comprehensive immigration reform a pillar of the president’s second-term policy agenda and launching an aggressive campaign to solidify Latino voter support across the country.
But in Texas, Democrats saw an even greater draw. For the first time in decades they saw an opportunity to secure the state’s 38 Electoral College votes. The Obama campaign’s 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird founded a grassroots organization called Battleground Texas and quickly set out a plan to turn the state blue.
Despite the group’s efforts, Texas political analysts have been quick to note that Battleground Texas is unlikely to have any major impact within the foreseeable future. The Texas Republican party has already responded by opening five field offices and hiring two dozen campaigners, and the state’s Latino voters are far less left-leaning than their counterparts across the United States.
In a more controversial appeal to Latino voters, and perhaps a broader gesture to the state’s conservative voters, Texas Governor Rick Perry spent recent months galvanizing support and ensuring the passage of a deeply unpopular anti-abortion bill. Experts have described it as one of the most restrictive pieces of anti-abortion legislation among a series of state legislative and legal battles over reproductive rights across the United States.
The law bans abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy and sets prohibitive costs and operating standards for women’s health clinics. Reproductive health providers in Texas’ poorer southern region—including only two clinics that currently offer abortions—have already said that they will have to close due to inflated operating costs imposed by the new law.
While polls suggest the bill will garner strong support from Latino voters—studies show that as many as 62 percent of Texas Hispanics identify as “pro-life”—it will undoubtedly carry devastating consequences for Latina women and their families.
Experts believe that the law will leave women in southern Texas with two precarious options: to travel four hours to the nearest abortion clinics in San Antonio, or in most cases, to cross the nearby U.S.-Mexico border to illegally obtain misoprostol, a steroid used in early term medical abortions to deteriorate the uterine lining. Without proper medical supervision, the medication can result in internal bleeding and partial abortions, with life-threatening consequences for those who take it.
Often lacking health insurance or documented immigration status, low-income and immigrant women are likely to be most severely affected by the new restrictions. According to a report by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Latina women “suffer disproportionately high rates of cervical cancer, unintended pregnancy, and poverty,” and “face systemic barriers in accessing the health care they need, including reproductive health care like contraception and abortion.”
Texas’ new law will only serve to deepen disparities for the state’s Latina women. Rather than improve public health, it places an unfair burden on those who already face extensive discrimination and inadequate access to care.
Furthermore, it strengthens perceptions among the country’s quickly growing Latino electorate that politicians believe they can win their support through single-issue campaigns. Rather than look to controversial wedge issues and swing state elections, leaders from both parties should seek to engage in a more dynamic and sustained conversation with Latino voters on the issues that matter to them most.