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Texas abortion law alarms reproductive justice advocates: ‘We are forcing people into generational poverty’

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(DALLAS) — Marsha Jones, a Texas native, says she has received many desperate calls from women in the state struggling to access abortions and reproductive care.

They are often young, alone and afraid, she said.

“We’re talking about young women who live in some of the most dire communities,” Jones told ABC News, recounting stories of women who came to her for help, including a pregnant teenager whose mother was addicted to drugs and a young woman who was in an abusive relationship.

Jones is the CEO of the Afiya Center in Dallas — an organization that advocates for Black women and girls. The center provides practical assistance to women seeking abortions by providing funding for sonograms, transportation, childcare, hotels, meals and other services.

Now, under a new Texas law, Jones and others who assist women in getting access to abortions say they have become targets themselves.

The law will make most abortions illegal after six weeks of pregnancy and will encourage anyone to sue a person they believe is providing an abortion or assisting someone in getting an abortion after six weeks, which is before many women learn that they are pregnant.

“It’s almost like they have put a bounty on those of us — people like us — and others, and even our donors, who want to make sure that people have access to reproductive health care and [that] includes abortion,” Jones said. “So now you have just people on the street, who can now sue us, attack us in all these kinds of ways, and with that, it almost ties our hands, because how much can we do if we are being sued every day?”

S.B. 8, which was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, went into effect on Wednesday and the U.S. Supreme Court formally rejected a request by Texas abortion providers to block it while legal challenges continue.

But despite S.B. 8, Jones said she and her team will not stop working to help women.

“We’re going to continue working at the Afiya Center,” Jones said, adding that through educational programs, they hope to help young women “understand their reproductive system” so they can become aware of pregnancies before they reach six weeks.

According to an August study by The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization, S.B. 8 will lead to shutting down a large swath of abortion clinics across the state and will increase the average one-way driving distance to an abortion clinic by twenty-fold — from 12 miles to 248 miles.

This disproportionately impacts low-income women and women of color, who do not have the financial means to travel.

Marcela Howell, who leads a coalition of eight organizations led by Black women that advocate for reproductive justice across the country, including the Afiya Center, told ABC News that S.B. 8 is the latest chapter in a history of legislation that has disproportionately hurt women of color

“Roe v. Wade promised the right to abortion, but for Black women who have to rely on Medicaid or who don’t have insurance coverage at all, and have to find money to get abortion services, that right has never been exercised, it’s always had barriers to it,” Howell said.

Howell, who leads In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, said that a disproportionate number of Black women live in low-income households and rely on Medicaid, which cannot be used for abortion access under the Hyde Amendment.

Jones said that even when low income women in Texas are able to get financial aid through abortion funds to cover the cost of the procedure, many still don’t have access to care because they cannot afford related travel costs, childcare or other medical costs like sonograms.

And these barriers, according to Jones, take time to resolve and are part of the reason many women can’t get an abortion before six weeks gestation — the restriction under S.B. 8.

“We are forcing people into generational poverty, we are forcing women to stay inside of homes, houses, spaces where their lives are on the line,” Jones said.

“When we make this a political or religious right argument, we are allowing a very small segment of the community, of the country to make decisions for the majority that they have no business making, because they do not know these people’s lived experiences,” she added.

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

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