How Texas’ abortion law could make systemic racism even worse

texas abortion
Opponents and supporters of an abortion bill hold signs near a news conference outside the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas.

  • Texas’ anti-abortion law empowers private citizens to sue anyone they suspect of providing an abortion.
  • Some experts see the law as a tool to threaten groups already vulnerable to disproportionate punishment.
  • Data from 2014 indicates that people of color constituted about 62% of US abortion procedures that year.
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Vigilante action in the form of policing, surveillance, and violence has long endangered people of color. That reality worries some experts who fear Texas’ latest anti-abortion law, which empowers private citizens to sue anyone they suspect of providing, or aiding and abetting an abortion, will disproportionately target people of color.

“If there are people willing to report Black children because they’re selling bottles of water, and have little lemonade stands, which is what we have seen, do we not think there’s already a movement established in this space?” said Michele Goodwin, a chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California, Irvine.

The law’s emphasis on suing people who aid or abet abortions casts a wide net, from clinic employees to counselors to anyone involved in transporting a person to obtain an abortion. Its tacit approval of surveillance, in particular, makes people of color more vulnerable in a legal system where they already face disproportionate punishment.

Data from 2014 indicates that people of color constituted about 62% of the country’s abortion procedures that year. Black, Latinx, and Native American people are also disproportionately affected by financial hardship, which means they may have fewer resources and flexibility to potentially travel outside of Texas for a legal abortion.

These factors, in addition to public uncertainty over the parameters of Texas’ abortion restrictions, mean that pregnant people of color and their loved ones may live in fear over how the law can be used against them, some abortion-rights experts told The 19th. In other cases, the existence of the law may be used as a tool to threaten and harass people.

The new abortion law has parallels to other racist laws, including the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

Goodwin said the civilian enforcement clause of Texas’ law reminded her of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed local governments to deputize private citizens to aid in the capture of runaway slaves.

“People say, ‘Well, that’s just extreme. It’s alarmist.’ It is not,” Goodwin said. “I think what is alarming and what is extreme are the histories and the present that exist that are irrefutable, and that are well documented.”

Targeted surveillance or violence continues today. Research indicates that Black and Latinx families are more likely to be reported to and investigated by child protective services. A report last year from the Southern Poverty Law Center law analyzed research on states with “stand your ground” laws that allow people to use force – in many cases deadly force – when they “reasonably believe” they are facing an imminent threat. Killings involving a White shooter and a Black victim were much more likely to be ruled justifiable in “stand your ground” states compared with cases with a Black shooter and a White victim.

police stand in line outside building
Police look on as a protest takes place outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

Social and news media reports in recent years have highlighted 911 calls made by White people, particularly White women, against Black people engaging in normal, legal activity. In one paper, University of Michigan researcher Apryl Williams argued that “White women engage an extralegal type of patrolling, policing, and surveillance to regulate Black bodies in public spaces and uphold White supremacist notions of law and order.”

For decades, vigilante action has been used by groups who believe they are heroically responding to a perceived failure by the government, said Lisa Arellano, an associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Colby College, who added that she sees commonalities between that history and the rhetoric of anti-abortion groups.

The Texas abortion ban SB 8 does not criminalize abortion; rather it relies on civil enforcement through lawsuits. But Drucilla Tigner, a reproductive rights policy strategist, with the ACLU of Texas, argues that state lawmakers have “unleashed” a law that they will not have full control over.

“Even if they don’t intend to go after certain people, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world – which this law gives standing to – won’t,” Tigner said.

By the time Texas’ six-week abortion ban went into effect on September 1, the anti-abortion lobbying firm Texas Right to Life had already launched a website where people could anonymously report doctors, clinics or individuals they suspected of helping people obtain abortions.

The website has since been removed from multiple online platforms for violating privacy guidelines, but it signals what the future of what Texas’ restrictions might look like if the law remains in place. Those who successfully sue someone over an abortion would be awarded at least $10,000 and have their legal fees reimbursed. As a result, providers in the state are now denying care to anyone more than six weeks pregnant, except in cases of medical emergency.

John Seago, the legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said he understands the concerns people have about people of color being disproportionately affected by SB 8. He added that while “individuals may bring their bad-faith motives into it,” lawsuits will ultimately be left to a judge to determine whether there is sufficient evidence.

A private individual suspected of aiding someone in an abortion process would potentially have to deal with the legal expenses, time commitment and stress that comes with a lawsuit, regardless of the outcome of the case.

Protesters hold up signs at a protest against Texas' new abortion law outside the state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas.
Protesters hold up signs at a protest against Texas’ new abortion law outside the state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

Creating an environment of fear

Beyond the threat of a lawsuit, SB 8 can be used to create an environment of fear for both pregnant people and the people they interact with, abortion rights advocates said. Many people do not understand the specifics of Texas’ law, said Kamyon Conner, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, a reproductive rights group. She said there are people in Texas who believe they can go to jail for having an abortion and others who are uncertain about what circumstances could lead to legal action.

“People are worried about risking the interests of their friends and families. People may be scared to talk about their needs around this really important issue of reproductive justice,” said Michele Gilman, a professor with the University of Baltimore Law School. “So it does threaten to fray different family and community and friendship bonds.”

Those concerns would contribute to a larger pattern of daily stress associated with racism and other forms of marginalization that many people of color experience. These stressors act as sources of “weathering” on the body and can lead to negative health outcomes for certain groups like higher rates of hypertension and heart disease, according to the work of researchers like University of Michigan professor Arline T. Geronimus.

Lawsuits on the constitutionality of the six-week ban are pending. On Thursday Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a lawsuit against Texas, asserting that the restrictions are “clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent.” The timeline of these cases remains unclear, leaving abortion rights organizations to find ways to assist people, such as through abortion funds that provide financial assistance for procedural or travel costs, Conner with the Texas Equal Access Fund said.

“We were already equipped, ready and able with the muscles we’ve been using to help people access care in the state for years and [now focused on] getting people out of state.

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Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans demand the Biden administration revoke federal grants from schools that include the 1619 project in their curriculum

Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listens as the Senate Rules Committee holds a hearing on the “For the People Act,” which would expand access to voting and other voting reforms, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell urged the Education Department to avoid support for the 1619 Project.
  • In a letter, he and dozens of other Senate Republicans said the project is a attempt at historical “revisionism.”
  • The project seeks to explain how the experiences of Africans who appeared on US soil in 1619 shaped systemic inequalities still in place today.
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Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to encourage public schools to strip from their curricula projects that he claims promotes “revisionism” of US history.

In a letter dated April 29, McConnell and 38 other Senate Republicans specifically referenced the New York Times’ 1619 Project, created to mark the date Africans arrived on American grounds. The project’s goal to is place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

McConnell said the 1619 Project and other programs strive to “reorient” US history “away from their intended purposes toward a politicized and divisive agenda.”

“Actual, trained, credentialed historians with diverse political views have debunked the project’s many factual and historical errors, such as the bizarre and inaccurate notion that preserving slavery was a primary driver of the American Revolution,” the letter says.

Since its 2019 launch, the project has received criticism and pushback, namely from Republican lawmakers and white historians.

Some states have begun to implement the project in their curriculum. But the Education Department has not directly told public schools to use or incorporate it. Usually, school curriculum falls at the discretion of state governments rather than any federal agency.

But under President Joe Biden, the Education Department has floated the possibility of offering grants to schools that include the 1619 Project and similar materials in their learning plans.

“We request that you withdraw these Proposed Priorities and refocus on civic education and American history programs that will empower future generations of citizens to continue making our nation the greatest force for good in human history,” the letter says.

The Education Department did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. The department is taking comments on the proposed grants until until May 19.

In a statement to the Hill, an Education Department spokesperson characterized the inclusion of materials like the 1619 Project in school curricula as a chance to take seriously the country’s history of systemic inequality and racism.

“The background of the Notice of Proposed Priorities includes examples of how institutions and individuals are finally acknowledging the legacy of systemic inequities in this country and paying attention to it,” the spokesperson said. “The Department welcomes comments on the Proposed Priorities until May 19, 2021.”

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Sen. Lindsey Graham says systemic racism doesn’t exist in the United States

GettyImages lindsey graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol January 7, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said systemic racism does not exist in the US.
  • “The vice president is of African American-Indian descent,” he said. “So our systems are not racist.”
  • Systemic racism is known to benefit white people across American institutions like law enforcement and education.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Sunday denied that systemic racism exists in the United States.

Asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace whether systemic racism exists across American institutions, Graham said no.

“Not in my opinion. We just elected a two-term African-American president,” he said, referring to former President Barack Obama, who was in office from January 2009 to January 2017.

“The vice president is of African American-Indian descent,” he continued, referring to Kamala Harris. “So our systems are not racist. America’s not a racist country.”

Extensive research and data illustrate how systemic racism in the United States makes basic experiences like banking, education, and interactions with law enforcement vastly different for people of color compared to white people.

Wallace asked Graham about systemic racism specifically within policing, which Graham also denied.

“Within every society, you have bad actors. The Chauvin trial was a just result,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, just ended in his conviction.

Floyd died on May 25 during an arrest, and video shows that he repeatedly said he could not breathe while trapped under Chauvin’s weight.

Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison for the second-degree murder charge. He also faces up to 25 years for the third-degree murder charge and up to 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. Because Chauvin was convicted of all charges, he will be sentenced on the top charge of second-degree murder. His sentencing is scheduled for June.

This is not the first time Graham has made controversial remarks about racism and people of color.

Last October, Graham said Black people are safe in South Carolina but only if they are not liberal.

“I care about everybody,” Graham said, speaking at a forum for South Carolina Senate candidates. “If you’re a young African American, an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state. You just need to be conservative, not liberal.”

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The UK’s failure to find evidence of systemic racism in a government-issued report is a laughable example of hypocrisy

boris johnson uk
  • A government-issued report in the UK found no evidence of systemic racism in the country.
  • A government clearing itself of any wrong-doing is a mockery to the real, institutional problems at hand.
  • Mohammad Zaheer is a journalist and political commentator.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Controversy has arisen in the UK after a much anticipated report investigating race and ethnic disparities apparently found no evidence of institutional racism in the country; instead heralding Britain as a model for other white majority nations.

The United Kingdom, much like the rest of the world, is having a moment of reckoning about racial injustice, further complicated by its colonialist past. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that followed the killing of George Floyd in America, the UK government established the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to help address concerns about the racial inequalities that permeate British society even today. But the report’s failure to find evidence of systemic injustice should leave us all questioning its authors’ intention.

Impartiality

Due to the importance of such reports – which gain considerable media coverage and are often relied on by government officials, academics, and policy makers to inform their decision making – it is imperative that the members of the commission are impartial experts that have tremendous credibility. However, eyebrows were raised when this particular panel, which is meant to be independent, seemed to mostly consist of individuals whose ideology was in line with the Conservative government’s views and lacked expertise in many of the matters being investigated. Former Shadow Home Secretary and current Labour MP Diane Abbott – the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament – went as far as accusing the government of consciously packing it with people who did not believe in institutional racism. And others who took part in the report are now trying to distance themselves from its results.

Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then, that this report went against the findings of several other major inquiries in the past 20 years that had found evidence of systemic racism – including the landmark 2017 Lammy Review that found significant racial bias in the UK justice system. It has become apparent now that instead of taking the opportunity to truly explore the issues of racial inequality and discrimination, the report appeared to be tailored to fit a pre-determined narrative that suited the government and reaffirmed its skepticism of institutional racism.

There is plenty of evidence regarding systemic racism – in 2021, one would have to be willfully ignorant to deny it. But in keeping the discussion stuck at debating the existence of a deeply entrenched discriminatory phenomenon that clearly affects a significant percentage of the population negatively, the government has ensured that no progress whatsoever is made in addressing the resulting racial disparities – which was what we were led to believe the commission was set up to do in the first place.

Evidence of injustice is easy to come by

The reality is that we live in a country where COVID-19 has disproportionately taken the lives and livelihoods of its Black, Asian, and ethnic minority population. Black women in Britain are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women. Black people are not only nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, but are also twice as likely to be criminalised for drug possession than their white counterparts. Ethnic minority students, especially those from Caribbean or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds, are significantly more likely to be excluded from school. Studies have shown that ethnic minority students are also less likely to be accepted in the country’s elite universities, even when they have the same grades as their white peers. Only recently, Black citizens were detained, denied their rights, and even wrongly deported from the country by the British government.

While the report does acknowledge that racial disparities still exist, its authors argue that “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, and culture and religion” play a significant role. Ethnic minorities opposed to the findings of the report seemingly get painted as perpetual moaners who’ve absorbed “a fatalistic narrative that says the deck is permanently stacked against them” and can’t bring themselves to appreciate the incredible progress Britain has made transforming itself into “a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world”.

Thus, the discussion has devolved into a farcical debate on patriotism, where those criticising this ‘positive’ news about Britain face accusations of just having an irrational hatred for the country instead of legitimate grievances. It feeds directly to the biases of much of the Conservative vote base, many who are vocal about how they believe people of colour, anti-racism campaigners and experts want to make everything about race, and how those complaining of racism have a victimhood complex.

The backlash and condemnation of the report has been swift and comprehensive. Several academics have criticised it as a sloppy piece of work and accused it of distorting and misrepresenting research. Many of the experts thanked for their help with the report have publicly come out and denied their involvement with its contents. And as I mentioned before, some of the commissioners have now come out and distanced themselves from the final report; with allegations that it was the government – and not the 12 commissioners – that produced many of the controversial sections of the finished product. The government has been urged to withdraw the report, with many rights campaigners fearing that its continued circulation will “take us back to the ‘colour bar’ of the 1960s.”

But whether a Prime Minister who has conducted an obvious attempt at whitewashing racism listens to such concerns remains to be seen. The hypocrisy of a government investigating itself by appointing ‘yes people’ to exonerate it and further its agenda – even allegedly rewriting their report to ensure the desired outcome – is galling.

The repercussions of this cynical act will continue to be felt, with the credibility of such ‘independent’ government commissions severely damaged. What is crystal clear, however, is that we cannot look to this administration for any meaningful action to address racial disparities. Our struggle for racial equality continues, it is just a shame that the government continues to actively make things worse for the marginalised communities it is also meant to serve.

Mohammad Zaheer is a journalist and political commentator.

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A major Texas highway expansion project has been paused to examine possible violation of 1964 Civil Rights Act

Houston
People drive on Interstate 45 toward downtown Houston.

  • The Department of Transportation has paused a Houston-area highway widening project.
  • In the past, highways were constructed with no regard for minority communities.
  • The Biden administration is seeking to address past racial inequities in planning decisions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Department of Transportation is using a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to pause construction on a highway widening project near Houston, an uncommon move that could be an early test of President Joe Biden’s commitment to addressing past racial inequities, according to Politico.

As the populous region continues to grow, the Interstate 45 highway project has been heralded as a way to reduce congestion and improve commute times, but the additional lanes would also impact several heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents, businesses, and houses of worship in the path to relocate.

The construction plan, known as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, would widen the highway into three segments.

Local resistance to the I-45 project had been brewing for years, with many hearkening back to the 1950s when freeway routes were deliberately drawn to impact Black communities and divide people by race and class.

The I-45 project has at least been temporarily halted, with Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg now at the helm of the sprawling federal department.

Federal transportation authorities in March sent a letter asking Texas to pause contracts on the widening project while they reviewed racial justice complaints covered by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, along with environmental concerns.

The provision states that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

In a letter written to the Texas Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration cited community opposition in reviewing the I-45 widening project, mentioning Houston-area Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Air Alliance Houston, and the community organization Texas Housers.

“I think [Buttigieg] was engaged, interested and fair,” Jackson Lee told Politico after speaking with the secretary. “I think he was chagrined at federal dollars being used with such disregard of community views.”

The congresswoman feels that the Texas Department of Transportation “blatantly violated” the Title VI provision.

The project’s pause, which is being driven by civil rights laws, has thrilled grassroots activists and Washington figures.

Fred Wagner, an attorney and former chief counsel at the Federal Highway Administration under the Obama administration, told Politico that taking such a step was a big change.

“It just doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “For DOT to step in, potentially, and say ‘We don’t think it’s an appropriate solution,’ would be a really huge deal.”

Buttigieg, who is seeking to reimagine the country’s transportation system, also hopes to dismantle old processes that disenfranchised Americans of color from past planning conversations, especially when entire neighborhoods were destroyed by urban planners when the modern US highway network was first built in the 20th Century.

“This is not just a matter of halfway accidental neglect,” he said in a Politico interview last month. “We’re talking about some really intentional decisions that happened, and a lot of them happened with federal dollars.”

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Biden relaunches the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Joe Biden signs executive orders
President Joe Biden signs executive orders as part of the Covid-19 response at the White House.

  • President Biden has relaunched the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
  • “This is not a nation that can, or will, simply stand by and watch the suffering around us,” he said.
  • Melissa Rogers, who led the office from 2013 to 2017, will come back as its executive director.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The White House on Sunday announced that President Joe Biden has relaunched the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“As our country grapples with a global pandemic, a severe economic downturn, the scourge of systemic racism, an escalating climate crisis and profound polarization, President Biden knows that civil society partnerships are essential to meeting such challenges,” the statement read.

The office will been modeled as a way for the White House to coordinate federal legislative policy with religious and community-based organizations, especially as Biden seeks to strengthen outreach to historically marginalized communities throughout the United States.

The announcement said that the office’s initial priorities would include outreach regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recovery, and tackling systemic racism.

“There are not Democrats or Republicans dying from this pandemic, or losing their jobs, going hungry and facing eviction in this economic crisis, or facing the sting of systemic racism or the brunt of the climate crisis,” Biden said in the announcement. “They are fellow human beings. They are fellow Americans.”

He added: “This is not a nation that can, or will, simply stand by and watch the suffering around us. That is not who we are. That is not what faith calls us to be.”

Read more: Meet the little-known power player with the ‘hardest job’ on Capitol Hill.

The office was first established in 2001 as the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by former President George W. Bush as part of his pledge of “compassionate conservatism.”

Former President Barack Obama renamed the office as the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and sought to strengthen its reach during his tenure in office from 2009 to 2017.

In a break from his predecessors, former President Donald Trump chose not to appoint a director and instead started the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives.

Melissa Rogers, who led the office from 2013 to 2017 during the Obama administration, will come back as its executive director, and White House senior advisor for Public Engagement Josh Dickson will serve as deputy director.

Trey Baker, also a White House senior adviser for public engagement, has been tapped as the office’s liaison to Black communities.

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