For many pregnant women in Baytown, Texas, there aren’t many options. It’s not just in seeking reproductive health services, such as abortion care, although local providers certainly lack services for this particular need. But the town, on the eastern edge of Harris County, bordering the Houston Ship Channel and the San Jacinto River, is a well-known pollution hotspot. Protecting yourself and your developing fetus from toxic substances can be a real challenge – just one example of how environmental and reproductive justice issues can collide in “fenced” communities.

Much of Baytown’s legacy of pollution is to blame for its high concentration of chemical facilities, including the Exxon Mobil refinery, which regularly spews dangerous chemicals and most recently caught fire in 2021. A notorious leaking Superfund site in the middle of the San Jacinto River contaminated the water and seafood in the area.

Petrochemical facilities in Harris County routinely emit “chemicals such as benzene, toluene and xylene, which can cause developmental and reproductive problems in the human body,” said Houston-based nonprofit Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services outside the community. Exhibition and Education Liaison Nalleli Hidalgo said.

While exposure to harmful chemicals is not beneficial to anyone, pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable. Because children are smaller and still developing, they may get sick more quickly and have lower levels of exposure. Likewise, pregnant people experience physical and hormonal changes that make them especially sensitive to pollution. Research shows that those who live near pollution — whether from oil and gas fields or traffic on roads and highways — have poorer maternal health, higher blood pressure, lower Birth weight babies and delivery are more likely to be premature. Of course, pregnancy itself can be dangerous without proper care — conditions like preeclampsia and maternal hemorrhage can lead to disability or death.

In parts of Baytown, maternal morbidity (a term that describes unintended outcomes during childbirth that lead to significant health consequences) is nearly double the state average. In a 2018 study, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that the average maternal morbidity rate in Texas in 2016 was about 17 per 1,000 births. But in Baytown, the maternal morbidity rate was as high as 31 per 1,000 deliveries. For people of color, the results were even more dire: Texas’ statewide maternal morbidity rate was 2.1 times that of non-Hispanic black women.

In 2019, a fire broke out at the ExxonMobil plant in Baytown, Texas.
Lao Chengyue/Xinhua/Getty

Lack of abortion care may exacerbate these results. last week, politics Published a draft opinion overturned by a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v Wade, the precedent-setting legal ruling made abortion the law of the land nearly 50 years ago.Though opinion is not final, Supreme Court seems likely to overturn roe This summer, states may be allowed to determine whether abortion is legal within their borders.

If finalized, the award will be set aside roe There will be an additional burden on people living in environmental justice and frontline communities.About 25 states would ban abortion if: roe Overthrown, many of those states are located in the South and Gulf Coast, where communities of color already face disproportionate environmental and climate burdens. In these states, access to health care and family planning services is limited, uninsured populations are high, and maternal health outcomes are lacking.

“We know that in the U.S., low income and people of color make health care more accessible to you,” said Hailey Duncan, a former environmental justice policy analyst at the nonprofit Moms Clean Air Force. She said a “combination” of being a person of color, living next to polluted sites like oil and gas facilities and lack of access to health care can have an impact on pregnancy.

Texas is one of 13 states with a ‘trigger law’ that would automatically ban abortion entirely Roe v Wade Overturned, which means if you’re an abortion seeker living in Baytown, you’ll have to travel abroad. (Texas already had laws outlawing abortion for the past six weeks; reversal roe will even eliminate this early window).

Since almost every state that borders Texas is also a trigger French state, you’re going to have to go a long way.one Market Watch An article on out-of-state abortion prices — including travel, lodging and lost wages — found they cost thousands of dollars. One patient had to seek complicated second trimester surgery that ended up costing as much as $14,000. Even an emergency bill of $400 would force 18% of households to borrow to pay, while 12% would not be able to pay in full.

There’s a saying in the abortion rights movement that legally banning abortions doesn’t effectively end the practice; it just limits who can get them, or get them without fear of prosecution or government interference. That said, those with the freedom and financial means to travel, take time off, and pay for medical care will always be able to have an abortion when needed. And those who don’t will have few, if any, options.

Protest - SCOTUS - Abortion - Roe
Protesters march outside the Massachusetts State Capitol in Boston, Massachusetts, in response to a leaked draft Supreme Court decision suggesting the justices are ready to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 case.
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe/Getty

Numerous studies have shown that people who live near polluted sites tend to have lower incomes and higher rates of people of color — groups that are more likely to need abortion care in the first place. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75 percent of abortion patients are poor or low-income, and 61 percent are people of color.

Additionally, people in environmental justice communities are often unable to relocate due to financial constraints, low property values ​​due to pollution, and social or family ties. In Baytown, for example, the median household income is about $54,000, which is lower than the national and state medians in Texas; the median home price is $126,500, a third of the national median home price ; 17% of Baytown households live below the poverty line, 1.5 times the national poverty rate.

“Low-income households are more likely to be led by women,” said Khalil Shahyd, managing director of environmental and equity strategy at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “Whether we’re talking about the risk of natural disasters, floods or displacement, those households that are generally at the highest risk will be low-income households, headed primarily by women.”

Then, don’t pile on further to embattled Baytown, and the question of climate impact. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey revealed brutal inequities in communities recovering from heavy rains and flooding, with poor families in Harris County actually receiving less federal aid than financially secure ones. Additionally, ongoing research at Rice University shows that those living in high-risk flood zones in the greater Houston area are socially more vulnerable communities. Heatwaves, which pose health risks to pregnant women and their fetuses, are expected to become more frequent and extreme in the already muggy Gulf Coast.

During Hurricane Harvey, pregnant women and people with young children had to swim to safety, recalls Erandi Treviño, a community organizer in Houston. Basic necessities like clean drinking water are hard to find. The extra stress of trying to keep themselves and their children safe during a hurricane can be detrimental to pregnant women, she said. “Having to live under these conditions creates stress, which in turn translates into disease.”

Hidalgo of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service said she often had to remind pregnant women after hurricanes not to venture out if they smell bad. Petrochemical facilities are often closed during hurricanes for safety reasons. When they restart, they release millions of pounds of harmful chemicals. “We always remind people that if they’re going to go out for a walk or jog, don’t go as long as there’s a chemical fire, or look for other places that might not be contaminated because it’s dangerous not only to them but to them as well. developing child,” she said.

The climate is changing, and as it evolves, everyone on the planet will have to deal with that reality. When activists stress that social, environmental and economic inequalities are all interconnected, it can feel overwhelming to grasp the vast and fundamental features our society must change. But that simply means that there is a version of our future in which additional burdens — barriers to reproductive health care, lack of affordable housing, stagnant wages — make all the The climate change challenge has become more serious, and a policy that is intentional, visionary and realistic can reduce these burdens.