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Gov. Greg Abbott told the Dallas Morning News on Friday that rape victims can take emergency contraception, like Plan B, to prevent pregnancy. Since abortion is now prohibited in Texas, even in cases of incest or rape, the governor has recommended the use of emergency contraception to ensure that a rape victim does not become pregnant.
But for low-income people in Texas, emergency contraception isn’t widely available, advocates said — a consequence of the large number of people of childbearing age who are uninsured and a lack of health care programs. state that provide access to treatment like Plan B.
During a pre-recorded segment on Lone Star Politics, Abbott said of rape victims, “By accessing health care right away, they can get the Plan B pill that can prevent a pregnancy from happening in the first place. As for reporting to law enforcement, this will ensure that the rapist will be caught and prosecuted.
Emergency contraception works primarily by stopping fertilization. The treatment can prevent a person from getting pregnant if taken up to five days after sex, with varying effectiveness.
In rape cases, Abbott said, “We want to support these victims, but these victims can also immediately access health care, as well as report it.”
After signing Senate Bill 8 last September, which banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and did not include exceptions for rape or incest, Abbott said the state’s goal was to eliminate rape. Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment on Saturday.
In 2020, Texas ranked 16th in the nation for the total number of forced rape cases per capita.
Emilee Whitehurst, CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, said a significant number of rapes go unreported and the actual number of victims is greater than those seeking treatment in a hospital.
Whitehurst added that emergency contraception is in no way a substitute for access to abortion, but those responsible for the Texas abortion ban left victims of sexual assault with few options. She said it was insulting to hear that Plan B had to be relied upon to prevent pregnancies given the dangers victims of sexual assault already face.
“To assume that Plan B could be a substitute for abortion care represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of women’s lives and our biology,” Whitehurst said.
Although emergency contraception is available for purchase over-the-counter, it can cost $50 at the pharmacy. Some insurance plans cover the cost of emergency contraception, but those who are uninsured must pay for this additional expense.
For women of childbearing age in Texas, more than a quarter lacked health insurance in 2017 — the highest rate in the nation. This is due, in part, to the fact that Texas has not expanded Medicaid and has one of the lowest eligibility standards in the country. A single parent with three children would need to earn less than $400 a month to qualify for Medicaid.
In addition to the lack of coverage, state programs that target women’s health care do not provide emergency contraception. Neither the Family Planning Program nor the Healthy Texas Women Program provide emergency contraception.
Title X clinics remain one of the few options for low-income people to access emergency contraception at an affordable cost. However, these federally funded reproductive health clinics do not operate in all communities in the state.
Whitehurst said guaranteed access to emergency contraception is “fairy tale thinking”. She said young victims of sexual assault, in particular, will find it difficult to access this form of contraception.
“It’s not readily available, it’s not easily affordable, and it’s an untenable solution to the terrible situation women now find themselves in without access to abortion,” Whitehurst said.
In the case of rape victims, the immediate need to seek emergency contraception compounds the trauma a survivor already faces, said Chau Nguyen, trauma therapist at JEM Wellness & Counseling in Houston. Nguyen said in a statement to the Texas Tribune that low-income Texans and women of color already face barriers to accessing health care, including emergency contraception.
“The sad truth is that women will choose to put food on the table to feed their children rather than their own health care. And that can greatly endanger their own lives,” Nguyen said.
The full schedule is now LIVE for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, taking place September 22-24 in Austin. Explore the timeline of over 100 insightful conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 election and 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher education at this point in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and much more. See the program.