Sadie Hernandez has been standing outside of Greg Abbott’s mansion for six days. She hasn’t gotten a glimpse of the GOP governor yet, even though she’s invited him to come outside and talk to her. “I’ve seen his dog a lot,” she said.
The 20-year-old Texan is braving the 90 degree Austin heat to protest against a new budget proposal that would slash funding for Planned Parenthood’s cancer screenings for low-income women. She hopes the governor vetoes it.
If Abbott approves the budget that’s currently sitting on his desk, the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program will be restructured in a way that would prevent Planned Parenthood from participating. The national women’s health organization says that move could be catastrophic for thousands of Texas residents who have nowhere else to go for affordable screenings. And, like many of the reproductive health policies the legislature has pushed through in recent years, the proposed changes to the program threaten to disproportionately affect poor and immigrant women in rural areas of the state.
Hernandez grew up along the northern bank of the Rio Grande, a region of Texas that has particularly high rates of poverty and uninsurance. The cities located in the Rio Grande Valley regularly top the list of the country’s poorest places. Drastic cuts to the family planning network in Texas have already left those communities struggling to access the basic care they need, and Hernandez is worried about what will happen if lawmakers continue to defund Planned Parenthood’s services.
“I’ve seen with my own eyes the things people have to do because they can’t afford health care,” Hernandez told ThinkProgress. “This would have a really bad impact on the Valley. Women who don’t have insurance or can’t afford to get quality health care will be forced to drive hours to get some screenings — they’ll have to spend more time out of work, and more time out of their own lives, to get the health care that they deserve to have access to in their hometowns.”
Hernandez, who volunteers for Planned Parenthood, first started showing up to Abbott’s mansion last week with a small group of about 15 other activists. As news started to spread about her efforts, people from across the state started following along, using the hashtags #StandWithSadie and #PeoplesVeto to express their support. The protest numbers gradually started swelling.
— PPTV (@PPTXVotes) June 8, 2015
This week, a few cancer survivors drove down from the Dallas area to join Hernandez’s ongoing protest.
Dayna Fisher-Farris was one of them. After finding a lump in her breast in 2012, Fisher-Farris received follow-up care at a Planned Parenthood clinic that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. She continues to fight for them today. “I don’t know if you can do enough to repay an organization that actually saved your life,” she told ThinkProgress.
Fisher-Farris stood with Hernandez outside the governor’s mansion on Monday afternoon. Although she isn’t optimistic that Abbott will actually meet with the protesters to hear their perspective on Planned Parenthood’s cancer screenings, she does hope the public activism around the issue may help raise awareness about the range of medical services that the women’s health organization provides.
“I think it’s important to realize that Planned Parenthood is more than just the one issue that everybody’s talking about all the time — abortion. Planned Parenthood provides all kinds of lifesaving services to women,” Fisher-Farris said. “Regardless of your stance of abortion, this only punishes women. People need to understand that women in Texas are under assault.”
The situation has become especially dire for Latina women in the Rio Grande Valley, who say that Texas’ policies have contributed to human rights violations. Now that dozens of family planning clinics have been forced to close since 2011, women in that region are struggling to make longer trips to clinics burdened with months-long waiting lists. A 2013 report from the Center for Reproductive Rights detailed stories from women living in the Valley who have gone years without adequate cancer screenings or treatment, even in cases when they’ve found lumps or received abnormal Pap results.
“There are some aspects of health care that are controversial. But cancer is not something that should be politicized at all,” Hernandez said. “Cancer is something that can happen to anybody, and nobody chooses to have it.”
“Greg Abbott is the only one who can do anything about this new budget,” she added. “I’m out here every day in front of his mansion to let him know that everybody deserves access to affordable and necessary health care.”