Remembering Rosie: We Will Not Forget You

Her face has haunted me for thirty years.

I've only seen one photograph of Rosaura "Rosie" Jiménez. It shows a pretty young woman with long, dark hair, dark eyes, a mysterious smile, and a striped blouse. To me, she looks very pleased about something. I wonder what Rosie was thinking and feeling the day that photo was taken. I am not sure I will ever know.

What we do know is that Rosie was a young Chicana living in McAllen, Texas, in the late 1970s. The daughter of migrant farm-workers, she was a single mother raising her 5-year-old daughter and also a scholarship student six months away from her teaching credential. She had her entire future ahead of her, and she looked forward to completing her education so that she could leave field and factory work for opportunities far more promising. Rosie realized that she was pregnant, and, too poor to pay for a safe and legal procedure at a clinic, she sought out a cheaper, unsafe abortion, and suffered a painful death from an infection that ravaged her body. So committed was she to a better future for herself and her child that a $700 scholarship check was found in her purse when she died. She could have used her college money for safe abortion care at a clinic, but she was saving it for her education–her passport out of poverty. Rosie gambled with her life and tragically lost. She became the first known victim of the Hyde Amendment which, in 1977, cut off Medicaid funding for safe abortion care to women on public assistance.

The hateful and oppressive Hyde Amendment killed Rosie Jiménez. She died on October 3, 1977, at the age of 27. We remember her because she has become a symbol–a human face–of all women and girls everywhere who are denied their human right to safe, legal, funded, and accessible abortion care.

Since 1995, the Abortion Access Project has organized Rosie Jiménez Day on October 3 and sponsored a series of events and speak-outs every October-October is National Abortion Access Action Month- in remembrance of Rosie.

It's been thirty years now since Rosie Jiménez died. So much has changed in our world. Tragically, what has not changed is that abortion as a human right for women is still debated and denied, and the Hyde Amendment still exists. It still violates women's human rights to life, equality, privacy, non-discrimination, and health and it still unjustly bans abortion funding for low-income women. These women are still prevented from accessing abortion, one of the safest and most important procedures a woman can have and a critical choice that all women should be able to have.

A recent report by the National Network of Abortion Funds called "Abortion Funding: A Matter of Justice" passionately states:

Abortion access is a matter of justice. The Hyde Amendment and subsequent state bans on Medicaid funding deny abortion rights and reproductive freedom to some of the most disadvantaged women in our society-those who depend on the government for their health care. Given the racial distribution of poverty in the United States, funding bans discriminate against women of color…In addition, federal funding bans unfairly penalize immigrants, disabled women, Native American women receiving care from Indian Health Services, women in the military, and women in prison. Young women, who tend to have few financial resources of their own, are also especially burdened by policies that deny abortion funding.

In addition, Heather Boonstra of the Guttmacher Institute writes in "The Heart of the Matter: Public Funding of Abortion for Poor Women in the United States:"

Poor women…Medicaid enrollees who are the poorest of poor Americans…have become pawns in the congressional debate over abortion since abortion became legal nationwide in 1973. For opponents of abortion, public funding has been a proxy for overturning Roe. As recently retired Representative Henry Hyde, long time anti-choice Republican member of Congress from Illinois for whom the amendment is named, told his colleagues during a congressional debate over Medicaid funding in 1977:

‘I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody from having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the…Medicaid bill.'

Since then, the Hyde Amendment has passed every year as part of the federal appropriations budget of the Department of Health and Human Services. This is a national disgrace that makes scapegoats out of poor women, young women, and women of color–the most vulnerable women in our country. Hey, says Hyde and his buddies, if you can't take away the rights of all women, let's just take away the right of the most marginalized.

It's may be hard to believe–but perhaps not, given the numerous successful strategies of the anti-choice movement–but thirty years of the pain, oppression, and discrimination caused by the Hyde Amendment has actually been supported and upheld by a 1980 Supreme Court decision, Harris v. McRae. Boonstra further states that the Harris case decided that the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment did not violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution, declaring that "a woman's freedom of choice does not carry with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices."

Further, Boonstra indicates that the decision further proclaimed that the federal government is entitled to choose to encourage childbirth over abortion by paying for childbirth, but denying abortion funding. "According to the Court, because the government did not cause women to be poor, it is not obligated to level the playing field for poor women: ‘Although government may not place obstacles in the path of a woman's exercise of her freedom of choice, it need not remove those not of its own creation, and indigency falls within the latter category.' "So let's get this clear. It's not the government's fault that women are poor (it's not?), and even though abortion is legal, the government is not required to make true access to abortion care a reality. But it's constitutional to pay for childbirth and not abortion and, in so doing, deny women true reproductive choice and justice.

What all of this sexist and racist legal discussion (I refuse to call it an analysis) results in is that 32 states are able to ban the use of state Medicaid for abortion. They are legally required to provide coverage in the cases of a woman's life endangerment, rape, and incest, but very rarely do so. One state theoretically provides coverage in cases of life endangerment, but that reality is also far different. Seventeen states elect to use state Medicaid monies to pay for women's safe abortion care.

What does this mean for women's lives and rights in 2007 America? The cost of a first-trimester abortion can be more than a poverty-level family lives on in a month. Low-income women who struggle to raise the money for an abortion do so at great sacrifice to themselves and their families. They forgo food, risk eviction, and pawn their possessions as they attempt to raise money for an abortion. Some are forced to continue the pregnancy (the National Network of Abortion Funds states that as many as one in three low-income women who would have had an abortion if the procedure were covered by Medicaid are instead compelled to carry the pregnancy to term), abandon their education, and stay trapped in poverty–which were Rose Jiménez's worst fears. In a sad twist of irony, as poor women attempt to raise money for their abortions, Boonstra of the Guttmacher Institute reports that they are often delayed by an average of three weeks, often pushing them into a second trimester abortion procedure that may take longer to perform, and that costs more.

Abortion access is an important matter of racial justice as well as economic justice and women's rights. To assure justice and equality for all women, the National Network of Abortion Funds has instituted a pro-funding campaign "Hyde: 30 Years is Enough! Fund abortion. Protect dignity and justice for women." And the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is calling for women's stories to learn more about how the Hyde Amendment negatively affects women in the Latina community and to break the silence around abortion for Latinas.

Legal abortion is essentially illegal for millions of women in the US. If there is no clinic in your community (87% of US counties do not have an abortion provider) , if you can't pay for it, if you can't get one, then what is a pregnant low-income women supposed to do?

Rosie Jiménez's fate is a terrifying answer. How many more tragic stories such as Rosie's do we have to endure until this reproductive health crime against so many women finally ends?

Read more about the challenges faced by abortion funds, and hear from abortion fund staffers themselves, in Andrea Lynch's "Abortion Funds: Putting Women's Needs at the Center."

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  • invalid-0

    All the PR machines were churning with “Women will have no choice but to resort to dangerous, back-alley abortions!” Setting up women like Rosie with the mind set that they were powerless to do anything else. Setting them up in the mindset that there was no help for carrying to term, and no way of getting an affordable “safe and legal” abortion. The PR machines were brainwashing Rosie, and others like her, for months.

    Her doctor was adamanetly prochoice, and ought to have known that PP offered sliding scale abortions that cost TEN DOLLARS MORE than what Rosie paid that midwife. She had a check for $800 in her purse. She had the money for a “safe” abortion at PP. (Had an abortion there killed her, it would have been a big fat yawn, like the 11 women whose legal abortion deaths the CDC noted for 1976 but didn’t screach and holler about.) But PP didn’t want her to know that a legal abortion was an option for her. They’d not have gotten the requisite corpse to hang around Henry Hyde’s neck.

    Rosie was set up to die, and I don’t buy all the crocodile tears over her death. It was a political victory for the abortion lobby, it was something they’d been hoping and praying for. They got it. And they’re happy.

    The 11 women known to have died from safe, legal abortions that year? Grist for the mill. Collateral damage. The 17 who died the following year from their safe, legal abortions? Same deal.

    The only deaths you consider tragic and avoidable are the ones you can milk for political gain. The rest of them are just swept under the rug.

    I’ll believe you care about women when you’re as outraged over what happens to women like Laura Smith, who died just last month. Quit the fake keening over somebody who died decades ago and start caring about whether or not women today live or die.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you Marcy Bloom for this great article. I am writing from the National Network of Abortion Funds (, which coordinates the 50-member Hyde – 30 Years is Enough! Campaign coalition. I encourage readers to get involved in the on-going fight to restore coverage for abortion for low-income women on the federal and state levels.

    We encourage everyone to regularly visit our campaign website –

    We will soon have a petition available at the website, demanding that Congress repeal this unjust funding ban. To find out more, please visit or contact us at or (617) 524 6040.

  • invalid-0

    incorrect and don’t tell the story of what happened – though they most certainly conform to the ideology you hold. Your anti-choice position is one, obviously, you have the right to hold. I am sorry you cannot see pro-choice advocates as human beings but the reality of Rosie’s death is deplorable. Does it make the reality of a woman who dies from a legal abortion any less sad? Absolutely not. It is horrendous when a woman dies – whether from a legal or illegal abortion. But the reality is that ANY medical procedure carries with it some risk. Abortion is a safe procedure when compared to almost any other surgical procedure. It is ten times safer than childbirth – women have a much higher chance of dying from childbirth than they do from a LEGAL abortion. But, as far as I know, we’re not going to start preventing women from birthing children because it holds risk.

    So your answer is to make abortion illegal despite the volumes of research that continually shows that illegal abortion kills or forever maims:

    From the World Health Organization:
    According to WHO, approximately 68,000 women die annually as a result of complications of unsafe abortion; and between two million and seven million women each year survive unsafe abortion but sustain long-term damage or disease (incomplete abortion, infection (sepsis), haemorrhage, and injury to the internal organs, such as puncturing or tearing of the uterus).(IPAS) According to WHO statistics, one in ten pregnancies ends in an unsafe abortion.

    Your attempt to “prove” that Rosie could have afforded an abortion at Planned Parenthood and so therefore this somehow makes it the fault of Rosie, Planned Parenthood and her doctor is just bizarre. The money she had was scholarship money, as Marcy correctly notes. What is amazing to me (and most pro-choice advocates)is that anti-choice activists can turn away from your own perspectives so quickly. She was the mother of a young girl who was intent on making a better life for herself. She was, obviously, a good and loving mother to her living, breathing child. She was also poor and did not have the same range of options she would have had if she had the money to pay for her abortion. Where is the problem here? For you, it’s the pro-choice movement’s fault for not making sure that she knew that she could have gone to Planned Parenthood? But I’m assuming you use your voice to try and force Planned Parenthood to close their doors. You cannot have it both ways.

    Millions – millions – of women have died or sustained long-term injury as the result of illegal abortions. And it has been proven that access to safe, legal abortion saves women’s lives. The pro-choice movement – as well as mainstream medical organizations- do everything it can to ensure abortion is as safe as it can possibly be. The same movement works incredibly hard to rid the world of illegal abortions. If you care as much about women as you seem to, we should be able to agree that providing women access to safe, legal abortion is the best way to protect women’s health and lives.

  • invalid-0

    I have no idea where you’re getting your information about Rosie Jimenez, Christina, but I recommend that if you’re going to comment on an intelligent article with inflammatory accusations and extreme rhetoric and wish to be taken seriously, you cite a source.

  • jenny

    Thank you for highlighting the important issue of abortion access. It's important to recognize that laws and policies alone can’t protect women’s health and autonomy — access to safe abortion services is crucial. Restricted or lack of access because of cost, distance, age, or other factors has the potential for devastating impact on women’s lives.


    While our public awareness activities have given way to other strategies in the past couple of years and we no longer have activities around this anniversary or Abortion Access Month, issues of access such as those faced by Rosie Jimenez are at the core of our work. AAP now works directly with health care providers across the country to address issues of access faced by rural women, low-income women, and women who live in states with the least access to abortion services. Our focus is on identifying gaps in access and developing innovative collaborations to fill these gaps. Although we’re no longer organizing within the general public, our Rural, Low Income Access and Abortion Education and Training Expansion initiatives help make abortion care available to all women through clinical education, outreach, and concrete support.


    As always, we welcome inquiries about our work.

  • invalid-0

    for clarifying the current work of the Abortion Access Project. I know for many years your organization highlighted October as Abortion Access Action Month and we thank you for that! You are still clearly engaged in valuable and important work. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  • invalid-0

    Thank you for the information on the issue on womens abortion its totally Millions – millions – of women have died or sustained long-term injury as the result of illegal abortions. And it has been proven that access to safe, legal abortion saves women’s lives. The pro-choice movement – as well as mainstream medical organizations- do everything it can to ensure abortion is as safe as it can possibly be.

  • invalid-0

    An unwanted pregnancy is a financial catastrophe, especially for a student. However, reproductive choice involves contraceptive availability. Why abortion? I don’t buy into making abortion illegal, but I’m not sure I want my tax money paying for a poor choice in sexual behavior. I guess I’m an unapologetic centrist.

  • invalid-0

    “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

    1 million abortions are performed in the United States every year. And every year there are 1 million U.S. couples waiting to adopt.

    Why is adoption not promoted nearly as much as abortion is? Speaking as a parent of two adopted children, I know that every child is a wanted child. We need to do a better job of letting others know that as well.

  • invalid-0

    upwards of 200,000 children every year that don’t get adopted in this country alone? The adoption argument just doesn’t hold up. The “one million U.S. couples” waiting to adopt must be waiting for white, healthy infants – which is fine. But please know that there are hundreds of thousands of children out there essentially dying for loving homes in this country – not to mention the millions around the world. And while abortion is a difficult decision for some women, carrying a child to term and then giving your child up for adoption is no walk in the park either. I don’t think one can presume to tell another woman that she should be forced to birth a child and give the baby up for adoption, if that isn’t what she wants to do.

  • invalid-0

    I did a little research and found that my numbers are off. Here is some excellent information from that also addresses why there are so many children who go unadopted each year.

    How many babies are adopted?

    4% of non-marital births are placed for adoption. In the U.S. this is about 50,000 non-related adoptions a year compared to 1,500,000 babies aborted.

    Why do so few mothers place their babies?

    In society, customs change. Right now it is the “in” thing to keep your baby. Part of the reason for this has been the overemphasis on women’s “rights” (as in abortion) over the baby’s rights, and the concept of the mother’s “ownership,” which the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision taught our nation. Add to this the above insidious influence, the almost condemnation of, and the “poor mouthing” of adoption by many sex educators, Planned Parenthood people, social workers and others.

    How many couples are waiting?

    There are about two million couples waiting. Furthermore, each of these couples would want two or three, if available. Many will take hard-to-place children with special needs. Bachrach et al., “On the Path to Adoption”

    What’s with minority race babies?

    Actually, there are enough couples wanting these babies, but, sadly, they frequently aren’t adopted. Reasons include unwillingness of the natural mother to release the child, unrealistically high standards for minority parents to meet in order to qualify, and unwillingness of agencies to allow white parents to adopt them. E. Lee, “White Couples’ Obstacles to Adopt Nonwhites,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 27, 1987

    Black people make up 12% of the population in the U.S., but 42% of the children in foster care are black. There are 450,000 in foster care, of whom 42% (or 189,000) are black. In an industrialized state, about two-thirds of children awaiting adoption are black, e.g., in Cincinnati 84 of 87 such children were black. Cincinnati Enquirer, Gregg, May 9, 1996

    There is a problem with agencies?

    Yes — this was really brought to the nation’s attention in the mid-’80s by a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal which detailed that if a baby is placed for adoption at birth, the social agency gets X number of dollars. For every child in foster care for a year, the agency gets 3X or 4X dollars. The charge has been made that minority race babies are not being placed at birth because the agency needs the additional money it gets for foster care.

    “The system has evolved into an industry with perverse incentives for social agencies to maintain children in the system because of the increased revenue. Some 70% of the money for foster care is spent for administrative overhead and services. What we have done, according to the National Council of Family and Juvenile Court judges is ‘replace parental neglect with governmental neglect.’” R. Woodson, “Bureaucratic Barriers to Black Adoption,” Wall Street Journal, June 26, 1984, p. 34