La Frontera Fund Joins Texas’ Growing Circle of Volunteer-Led Abortion Access Groups

As the Supreme Court weighs the constitutionality of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, Rio Grande Valley activists have launched a nonprofit to help cover hotel costs for patients who must travel to and from the region for their abortions.

La Frontera Fund is the newest in a crop of mostly volunteer-led organizations seeking to mitigate the effects of the Texas law on the state’s poorest residents. It’s the first “practical support” organization in South Texas for the increasing number of abortion patients traveling longer distances for care.

Abortion protesters in front of the Whole Woman's Health clinic in McAllen.
Jen Reel
Abortion protesters in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen. Since the passage of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, it has become harder and more expensive for Texans who need abortions to access the procedure, especially in the Rio Grande Valley.

The region was hit particularly hard by the regulations in the Texas law, House Bill 2. Clinics in both Corpus Christi and Harlingen have shuttered over the past two years, providers said, because they could not comply with the law’s onerous, expensive standards.

For Texans in the Rio Grande Valley and surrounding counties, the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen is now their closest legal abortion option, and getting to and from the clinic can be a challenge.

Sofia Peña said La Frontera Fund will largely serve poor and undocumented Texans, who are disproportionately affected by abortion restrictions.

“We have a large undocumented and immigrant population here on the border,” Peña said. “Hidalgo County is also one of the poorest counties in the nation, and it’s geographically isolated.”

Whole Woman’s McAllen, like other Texas abortion providers that can’t afford millions of dollars to refit or renovate facilities into the hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers HB 2 requires, is currently in legal limbo. If the Supreme Court, which is currently weighing the constitutionality of the law, upholds HB 2, Whole Woman’s will close. It temporarily closed in 2014, then reopened after a subsequent federal court ruling.

“We understand that it can get much worse,” Peña told the Observer.” When the clinic was closed, we’ve heard of patients calling and asking about self-induction methods.It’s very clear that the need here is dire.”

With a starting budget of about $20,000, La Frontera Fund will cover up to $175 for callers’ hotel costs, though they can’t guarantee that they can serve everyone, Peña said.

Since 2013, more than half of Texas’ abortion clinics have closed, forcing patients throughout the state, especially those living in swaths of rural West Texas and the Panhandle — where no clinics are open — to travel for their abortions.

According to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), about one-third of abortion-seeking Texans spend more than $100 out-of-pocket on transportation, overnight accommodations and child care, lost wages from taking time off work, and funding for their procedures or medication. TxPEP researchers also found that Texans whose nearest clinic closed after HB 2’s passage now must travel an average of 85 miles for legal abortions.

The Lilith Fund, Texas Equal Access Fund and West Fund also provide financial assistance for Texans seeking abortions, helping to fund the procedure itself, which has gotten more expensive as appointment wait times have increased and Texans have had to obtain abortions later in pregnancy.

Fund Texas Choice, which launched in 2013 in direct response to HB 2, books travel, hotel accommodations and transportation for patients and assists patients with funds for those expenses. Volunteers with Austin’s Bridge Collective, Dallas’ Cicada Collective and Houston’s Clinic Access Support Network drive patients from their homes to their abortion appointments.

On top of hotel cost support, Peña said La Frontera Fund will launch a “holistic” education campaign about abortion and contribute to the growing reproductive justice movement in the Rio Grande Valley, which includes activists fighting for fair wages, LGBT rights, and immigrant and human rights.

“All of that is considered reproductive justice because it’s impacting families, children, the working mothers of this area, the undocumented and the poor,” Peña said. “And that’s the population that’s affected by HB 2.”

Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

Published at 8:00 am CST