AUSTIN, Texas — Rosie Jimenez of McAllen, Texas, was one semester away from graduating college when she died in 1977. The then-27-year-old mother and aspiring teacher passed away after seeking an abortion from an unsafe source. She was the first known Texas casualty after the U.S. Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which banned federal funding to pay for abortions through Medicaid.
The amendment has been the subject of political volleying on both the national and state levels this week. On Tuesday, 200 House Republicans signed a letter pledging to protect the amendment. The lawmakers’ action came a few days after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, called for its repeal in a Jan. 22 tweet that said 48 years after Roe V. Wade became law, “systematic barriers to accessing abortions and other reproductive health care still exist.”
On the same day conservative lawmakers signed their letter, State Rep. Sheryl Cole (D-Austin) and State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) filed identical legislation in each chamber of the Texas legislature to restore health insurance coverage of abortions in Texas. The bill is named to honor the life of Rosaura “Rosie” Jimenez. The proposed law that bears her name marks the first time this legislation has been filed in both the House and Senate.
Abortion and women’s reproductive rights have been under siege in Texas over the last two legislative sessions, advocates say. In 2017, Texas banned insurers from including coverage for abortion in a comprehensive health insurance plan, requiring women to purchase separate coverage for abortion care. In 2019, Texas passed House Bill 16, which criminalized abortion providers who do not provide medical treatment to a fetus if born after an abortion.
Rosie’s Law would add abortion coverage back to the Medicaid and private insurance coverage pools, according to Rep. Cole, the bill’s author.
“A lot of folks don't know that you aren't able to access abortion care using your private insurance,” she said in a Zoom press conference. “So this year, we are really trying to use Rosie's Law to assist everyone and having coverage of abortion clear whether it's private care through their own insurance or public insurance through Medicaid.”
The legislation is being advanced by three abortion rights advocacy groups, La Frontera Fund, which provides support and funding for abortions in the Rio Grande Valley; the Lilith Fund, which provides the same services in South Texas; and Texas Equal Access Fund, which provides funding and advocates for access to safe abortions in North Texas.
During the press conference, Sen. Eckhardt cited various studies to support her claims that restricting abortion access forces 1 in 4 women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and pushes low-income people further into poverty.
“When anti-abortion politicians take away a person's ability to make the health decisions that are best for their individual circumstances, they put Texans’ health and their safety at risk,” she said. Restricting abortions, she continued, “disproportionately impacts Texans who are already marginalized by our healthcare system, including people struggling financially, immigrants, people of color and their families, transgender people, and young people. Texans need to have the freedom to chart their own path and make personal healthcare decisions without governmental interference."
A Quinnipiac University Poll shows that 62% of Texas voters agree with the Roe v. Wade decision, the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down abortion restrictions. In a state where conservative Republicans have pushed in recent years to outlaw abortions altogether, the poll shows that only 11% of Texas voters support that position. The state has tried to ban the most common second-trimester abortion procedure and recently passed a law requiring health clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains following an abortion or miscarriage. Both laws are being challenged in court.
An average abortion in Texas costs around $500. In Texas, 1 in 3 women of reproductive age has private insurance but cannot use it for an abortion.
Nancy Cardenas Peña, a board member of La Frontera Fund, Texas director of policy and advocacy at The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, and host of the Zoom call, said has this law been in place in 1977, Rosie Jimenez would still be here today.
“The truth is abortion is an incredibly safe procedure,” she said. “It is only the unnecessary barriers erected by anti-abortion politicians that make people unsafe. We deserve better today. We celebrate the historic introduction of Rosie's law, and we ask lawmakers to listen to the majority of Texans who support Medicaid coverage of abortion, and who'll stand behind them if they support Rosie's law.”