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Sofia Peña sits in a bedroom with her daughter at her home in McAllen on May 18, 2017. Sofia was in a rocky relationship with a boyfriend when she became pregnant with her daughter. She desperately wanted an abortion, but her boyfriend was vehemently against it, so she continued the pregnancy. She took to parenting, much to her surprise, but struggled to raise her daughter without the father's consistent involvement. Before being able to get out of the relationship, she became pregnant again. This time she got an abortion, realizing she was not able to financially support a second child, having a cashier's job. Now she helps run La Frontera Fund, which helps to fund travel to and from clinics for women seeking abortions who cannot afford them.
Her daughter's name is withheld for her privacy.
Aisme clenched her daughter Jess’s hand as Dr. Bhavik Kumar began her abortion procedure at Whole Woman’s Health in San Antonio, Texas. When Jess, 25, first discovered she was pregnant, her mother drove her from Del Rio, Texas, where they live, into Mexico twice to procure abortion pills. Though the pills are illegal when used for abortions in Mexico, Aisme and Jess determined it was more difficult to get the pills in Texas; getting to the closest abortion clinic requires a drive of over 100 miles away. (The full names of Aisme and Jess are being withheld for privacy.)
Both of Jess’s attempts to self-induce failed. Desperate, Aisme had no choice but to drive her daughter the 150 miles to San Antonio. In total, Jess was forced to miss two weeks of work.
Jess’s story is not unique. Over the past few years, access to abortion has been systematically restricted in Texas. This year alone, the state proposed more than 50 bills aimed at regulating and limiting abortion access.
The battle over abortion rights in Texas really reached a crescendo in 2013, when House Bill 2 was enacted. The sweeping anti-abortion law required providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and mandated that abortion clinics adhere to regulations required of ambulatory surgical centers. In response, Whole Woman’s Health sued the state. In June 2016, the Supreme Court sided with the clinic in a 5-3 ruling and overturned those provisions, stating that they caused an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. But, by that point, more than half the abortion clinics in Texas had already closed. Today, only two of the clinics shuttered by HB 2 have been able to reopen.
Debates over abortion access continue to roil state capitols and courts—both in Austin and across the country. All too often, though, these debates leave out the voices of women, on both sides, who are most affected by the decisions made by lawmakers. Living in Texas as a photojournalist for the San Antonio Express-News, I felt compelled to examine the fight over abortion access. In early 2016, with the knowledge that a Supreme Court decision about HB 2 was pending, my editor Luis Rios and I began to discuss how to cover this topic in a more nuanced way. We decided that I should work on a long-term project spending time with women on the frontlines of the abortion wars, in communities most affected by these changes.
My aim for this project was to intimately examine the motivations and larger cultural context behind women’s decisions and convictions about abortion—as well as to add a much-needed human element to one of American politics’ most hotly contested topics.