The Right to an Affordable and Accessible Abortion: An abstract right for Latinas?


Silvia Henriquez is the Executive Director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

Thirty-four years ago the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the right to an abortion. While this certainly was a milestone and victory for women in the United States, we also must understand how this decision impacts women from all backgrounds and communities.

The Latina community is incredibly diverse. Many of us are immigrants or our parents were immigrants, while others have been here for generations. We come from many different places: Caribbean Islands, Mexico and more recently from South and Central America. Our cultural diversity, varied immigration status and personal experiences in the United States all contribute to how a Latina will perceive her right to an abortion and her understanding of this right.

There is some research on Latinas and their abortion rates; there is also some qualitative and anecdotal information that helps us understand how our community perceives abortion. Is it a medical service or is it a "right" that has become politicized? Do Latinas look at as a "choice"? What is the reality for Latinas? There is not one answer—in fact, from my personal experience of working on this issue in a political context and working on behalf of Latinas, abortion is a very complex issue.

However, what we do know is that for many Latinas it is not so much of a political issue as it is a very personal and sometimes difficult decision that must be made for a variety of reasons. In some instances, women will go to a clinic and pay for the procedure either with their own money or in some very fortunate instances with their health insurance. This is not always the case. For many Latinas who are low-income, paying for an abortion is not a possibility and while yes, there are abortion funds, we know that these funds work hard to raise money but can not always help every single woman. Medicaid is also very limiting. Because of the Hyde Amendment, federal funds can not be used to pay for abortions—this means that women on Medicaid, in the military, in the Peace Corps and women who live on Indian Reservations cannot get an abortion because they rely on the federal funds for their health care. Therefore, States have to decide whether or not they will cover abortions through their Medicaid programs. Currently in 33 states, Medicaid coverage is only available for abortions needed in the case of rape, incest or if the life of women is in danger. If you are a survivor of rape or incest you have to prove it first—we know that this is very difficult.

For Latinas who find themselves with very little financial resources for an abortion, they also sometimes face additional barriers—they may be undocumented, they may not speak English and they may also not have the support of their community. Abortion is still a difficult issue in the Latino community, but at the same time women in the community are seeking abortions, needing abortions and when possible accessing abortions. According to Guttmacher Institute, 17-20% of women having abortions in the U.S are Latinas.

So what can we do?

  1. We must fight to repeal the Hyde Amendment—all women regardless of income deserve the opportunity to access the full range of reproductive health care services—this is the only way we can make informed decisions about our future and our lives.
  2. We must not ignore the fact that many Latinas do seek this service—and while it may not be a political issue for everyone, and Latinas may not always identify using the traditional and limiting "pro-choice" label, Latinas do want information about abortion services, need the support when they make this decision and finally, do understand that every woman needs to make this decision for herself.

As we commemorate the 34th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, let us not forget that we still have a long way to go to ensure that abortion is legal and accessible for all women. I can assure you that many women are struggling for their health and dignity, especially when it comes to their reproductive health care. Please visit www.latinainstitute.org to learn how you can become more involved.

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