Latinas and Abortions, Not Mutually Exclusive
(Final piece in fulfillment of The Beat requirements)
At age 6 Alex Lora’s family, like so many others, moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States to find better opportunities. Now, Lora is a Permanent Resident and a student at Bronx Community College. Lora has big plans to transfer to school out of state and then travel the world and use her knowledge of languages (she speaks Spanish, English, and conversational Italian and Korean) to work as a translator. What is not in her plans is having a baby, at least not anytime soon.
“I think I would get an abortion because I really don’t want anything to stop me from my full potential and going where I want to go. There are so many things I want to do with my life and me having a baby can wait until I’m older and have accomplished the things that I want,” said Lora.
Lora’s inclusion of abortion as an alternative to an unwanted pregnancy reflects the strong belief that, despite the commonly held idea that Latinos are more conservative, many Latinas do consider abortions an option and believe in the need for reproductive health services.
A recent poll of a nationally representative sample of Latino voters from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health shows that 70% of Latino voters don’t see themselves as being “pro-life.”
“Despite the idea that we´re more conservative or less pro-choice, through the work we’ve done and through the polling we’ve done…with nationally representative samples of Latinos in the US, it’s shown that that’s actually a myth, said Jessica Gonzalez Rojas, executive director of the NLIRH.
According to Gonzalez Rojas, Latinos, like a lot of other minority groups don’t approach abortion as a black or white issue. The NLIRH poll shows that the 70% of Latino voters that don’t identify as “pro-life” said they were either “pro-life”, both, neither, or not sure.
“Titles like ‘pro-choice’, ‘pro-life’, it doesn’t apply to our community. Are you pro-choice? Yes. Are you pro-life? Yes. They’re supposed to be at odds but actually, we see ourselves as both or none. It doesn’t translate into Spanish,” said Gonzalez Rojas.
Even religion, which is traditionally seen as a reason why Latinos would be against abortion seems to be reconciled with the idea. According to the poll, 69% of Latino voters believe abortion should be legal even if it goes against church views and 50% agree on some level that their own religious views can support a woman having an abortion.
“[Older generations] are still very religious, even if they moved here they still hold religion, family values, very strongly, and are not really reliant on American things,” said Lora, reflecting the idea that although older immigrants may still be opposed to abortion on the basis of religion, younger immigrants are more supportive.
It seems that the biggest disconnect between Latina immigrants and abortion and reproductive health services may not be a conservative environment but rather, a lack of access.
The Affordable Care Act, which gives a large number of Americans access to health care, does not cover abortions except in extreme cases, and even if it did, undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for coverage.
“We continue to press the administration and to press members of congress about the need to include immigrant women and families because if you’re looking at a bill that’s supposed to raise the health of a nation, when you exclude such a large population of people, it actually hurts the country and hurts society,” said Gonzalez Rojas.
Medicaid coverage of abortions is hampered by the Hyde Amendment, which is an appropriation that prevents federal funding for abortions through Medicaid. Since Medicaid is a federal- state partnership, some states do fund abortion services through their own tax dollars, but at the moment only 17 states do so.
“It’s so problematic that they’ve attached to Medicaid because that is serving the lowest income people and yet those are the ones that often find themselves in a situation that they need an abortion. They’re struggling to make ends meet and they already don’t have the resources to get healthcare outside the Medicaid program,” said Gonzalez Rojas.
All of these limitations on access to abortion and reproductive services means that undocumented Latina immigrants have to turn to community health centers which are required to provide care regardless of immigration status. The issue with these centers is that they don’t provide a full range of reproductive care and most don’t provide abortion services. This of course, leads many desperate women to turn to more dangerous methods to end their pregnancies.
Lora’s coworker, for example, once told her of a friend who got pregnant at 18 and had to have a “back alley” abortion because her doctor wouldn’t perform the abortion. The procedure was not done correctly and left pieces of the baby in the womb causing this friend to have to go in for a second procedure.
“The process of abortion is traumatizing so just to have to go back and go through it again for the same thing is very scarring. And her friend isn’t even sure if she want’s to have kids in the future now,” said Lora.
Stories like these are not uncommon and there’s potential for them to become even more common depending on the Supreme Court’s decision on the Texas Omnibus Abortion Bill (HB 2).
The bill, which was passed by the Texas senate essentially, forces abortion centers to close down by requiring that their doctors have admitting privileges in hospitals and that the buildings meet the requirements of ambulatory surgical centers.
Should this bill be passed by the Supreme Court it would affect the access of all women to abortion centers but it would especially impact Latina women who make up a very large part proportion of reproductive age women. In Texas for example, of the 5.4 million women of reproductive age, 2.5 million are Latina.
“This is something that impacts the Latino community very deeply and if it’s not struck down, we’re gonna see the proliferation of these laws across the country and perhaps even in potentially safe states,” said Gonzalez Rojas
New York is one of those safe states. Here there are clinics available, abortions are affordable, and even immigrant women can get them through Medicaid.
Lora is aware of the access available to her by living in New York, “I feel very grateful that I do have access to [reproductive health] because I wouldn’t want to have to go to some back alley place to get rid of the child. I would want to have somebody who actually knows what they’re doing and can instruct me afterwards on how to take care of myself.”
But if HB2 passes, the comfort that Lora seeks may disappear and be replaced by the frustration and fear of having nowhere to go for reproductive services like the women of Texas.