Latino Heritage Month Meets Reproductive Justice & Sexual Health: Focus on Gwen Araujo

Bianca I. Laureano

Fourth in a series about leaders in the Latino community whose work centers on sexuality, ethnicity, racial classification, and social justice.

For Latino Heritage Month I’d like to try to expand our understanding and conversations about Latino sexuality during this month. Read previous people highlighted: Gloria Anzaldúa, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Rigoberta Menchú Tum.

Gwen Araujo is one of the top searches that leads people to my website and blog (Vanessa del Rio and uterus didelphys). I see her name everyday and am reminded of the privilege I have and of the power of Latino families.

Gwen Araujo
Beloved daughter, sister, aunt, niece, friend

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October 4 will mark the eight year since  Gwen Araujo was brutally murdered. Eight years that her family has missed her, shared their stories in an attempt to collectively heal. A 17 -year-old transgender Chicana living in Newark, California, Gwen aspired to be a make up artist. Her family supports, loves and fights for her to this day.

Daisey Hernandez of Colorlines shares the details of Gwen’s murder:

In October of 2002, Gwen Araujo had also tried to go home. She was 17, transgender, dressed up to celebrate the birthday of her namesake idol, singer Gwen Stefani. But Gwen never made it home from the party. A group of men beat her repeatedly with a shovel, strangled her with a rope and buried her body in the woods near a campground. Her killers went to McDonalds for breakfast.

According to her mother and newspaper reports, she had been living as a girl since she turned 14, getting her nails done, finding in her Mexican family a warm acceptance. She had been pushed out of the local schools but no worries. She and her mom had talked: Gwen would find a job to help pay for beauty school. It was all working out somehow. She even knew these guys, Michael and Jose, who had taken an interest in her.
But on Oct. 3, 2002, they turned on her. According to court testimony, the two men, who had had sex with Gwen, suspected her biological gender and attacked her with two other men at a house party. The other party-goers left the house, chalking it up to a guys’ fight. No one dialed 911, even as the men punched Gwen and hit her across the head with a kitchen skillet. She bled profusely, and they told her to get off the sofa because she was bleeding on it. In her last hours, she must have thought of her mother, her sister, her brothers. She begged, “No, please don’t. I have a family.” The men beat her with a shovel and strangled her.

Murdered by four young men, all under 25 years old at the time of the murder, each young man had different sentences. Michael Magidson (15 years to life), Jose Merél (15 years to life), Jaron Nabors (11 years), and Jason Cazares (6 years). Magidson and Merél’s sentences were upheld last year.

A Lifetime movie called A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story was aired in 2006 (I have not seen the film so I cannot comment on whether it was well done, problematic, or something else). In addition, the Horizons Foundation created the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education which provided school-based advocacy to “promote understanding of transgender people and issues.”

The power of the Latino family is so present in this story. Reading the OpEd piece that Gwen’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero (pictured above holding Gwen’s foto) wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, clearly demonstrates how her family is using the pain, anger, sadness of losing Gwen to create change for more youth. Sylvia writes:

I’m also grateful. Grateful that my family and our friends rose to the challenge and sat through two gruesome and explicit criminal trials to make sure that everyone knew that Gwen was loved for who she was. I’m grateful for the support we’ve all received from perfect strangers who have told us in-person and through e-mail that we are in their thoughts and prayers. I’m grateful for the remorse that two of the defendants and some of their family members have expressed to me and my family.

And I’m sad. Sad that I’ll never get to see Gwen grow into the beautiful woman she would have become. Sad that four men chose to end my daughter’s life, and throw away their own simply because they thought they were acting like “real men.” And sad that other transgender women have been killed since Gwen’s murder and that we don’t have a realistic end in sight to that violence.

What Gwen’s life and murder says to me about reproductive justice and Latino Heritage Month is that we are not creating a world/society/space that loves our youth. We are not allowing ourselves to love our youth. We are not creating a reproductive justice movement that welcomes, centers, and sustains our transgender family members and friends. We are not holding ourselves accountable for the transphobia and transmisogyny that we perpetuate in the movement. We have a lot of work to do.

As Latinos alone, we have a lot of work to do as well. Gwen was not the last Latina to be murdered because of her gender identity. Our Latina hermanas are murdered more often than we care to even recognize. Angie Zapata’s murder gained a similar form of attention when she was murdered in Colorado last year. Unfortunately, limited Latino media outlets found her story important enough to cover. Ashley Santiago Ocasio was stabbed to death in her home in April in Puerto Rico and the bodies of two transwomen were found murdered on September 13, 2010 in Puerto Rico.

We must remember all of our family members regardless of gender identity and sex assigned at birth, and work to ensure their memory lives in ways their bodies have not. One way to begin is to put the same effort, time, money, and energies that we have into Latino Heritage Month (LHM) into the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day “set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.”  One month after LHM ends, TDOR occurs. Imagine the conversations, education, and opportunities for building community and establishing networks for support and care if we put the same amount of devotion into ensuring our community does not forget those of us who are no longer here in physical form because of transphobic actions.

Transgender Europe, a non-profit organization focusing on transgender people all over Europe, published an international report in 2009 that found every 3 days a transgender person is murdered, but a recent 2010 update shows a horrendous increase to 2 days. The report states: “The starkest increase in reports is also to be found in Central and South America, e.g. in Brazil (2008: 59, 2009: 68, January-June 2010: 40), Guatemala (2008: 1, 2009: 13, January-June 2010: 14) and Mexico (2008: 4, 2009: 10, January-June 2010: 9).” Let that sink in: A transgender person is killed every 2 days around the world, but a majority of these murders are in Latin America.

There is a lot of work to be done. Lives are being lost and there are almost no plans to end the violence. We must collectively value the lives of all of our community members. Let’s use this Latino Heritage Month to embrace everyone in our Latin@ family.

Foto credit: Horizons Foundation

Analysis Law and Policy

Here’s Why 2016 Could Be the Biggest Year for Reproductive Rights and the Courts in Decades

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

The next year promises to be an eventful one on the legal front—though we feel like we say that every December.

The next year promises to be an eventful one on the legal front—though we feel like we say that every December. After all, 2015 brought challenges to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act; a case on whether not hiring an employee because she wears a hijab is employment discrimination; the historic and successful challenge to same-sex marriage bans; the failed challenge to federal subsidies in the Affordable Care Act; and a failed attempt to gut the Fair Housing Act. Meanwhile, 2014 was the year the Roberts Court gave the green light to governments embracing prayer at civic functions; it also struck most abortion clinic buffer zones as unconstitutional in McCullen v. Coakley. And who could forget Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the case in which the Roberts Court created a constitutional corporate right to object to contraception coverage?

Even so, 2016 is still shaping up to be an important year for reproductive rights and justice. Some cases on the list to watch—like yet another challenge to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act—we anticipated. Other cases, like the trial in Colorado of Robert Lewis Dear Jr., who is accused of launching a siege at a Planned Parenthood health-care center in Colorado Springs that killed three, injured nine, and terrorized many others, we wish were not here at all. But given the violent rhetoric targeting abortion doctors, providers, and patients that increased over the course of 2015, we can’t say we were surprised to put it there.

The Roberts Court

Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole

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Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole is the Roberts Court’s first substantive dive back into abortion-rights law since Gonzales v. Carhart, which banned so-called partial-birth abortions in 2006. But unlike Gonzales, which focused on the constitutionality of a procedure-specific abortion ban, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole takes on the porous “undue burden” standard of 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision by tackling just how rigorously courts should apply that standard when reviewing abortion restrictions that purport to advance patient health and safety. That makes Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole the Court case with the most potential to affect abortion rights in nearly 25 years.

Little Sisters and the Rest of the Nonprofit Contraception Cases

Another Roberts Court term brings another challenge to some portion of the Affordable Care Act. This time, the Court returns to the ACA’s birth control benefit and the question of whether the government’s process for allowing religiously affiliated nonprofits to opt out from providing health insurance plans that offer contraception is too burdensome under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Court consolidated seven cases filed by hospitals, nursing homes, and other kinds of businesses that are religiously run and affiliated; all object to filling out the opt-out form. The cases represent not just a test to the administration’s opt-out provision for the birth control benefit, but the strength of the majority decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which relied on the accommodation process now before the Court to rule that for-profit businesses should have a similar opt-out option available. A ruling that would allow these nonprofits to be exempted from the coverage would have enormous implications, as 10 percent of larger nonprofits have asked the Obama administration for an accommodation to the rule already.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association 

The Roberts Court has not been kind to workers’ rights generally, making it harder for employees harassed by supervisors to sue and drastically reducing employees’ abilities to raise class-action lawsuits. This term is no exception with Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that takes on the way public employee unions are funded. Currently, if a union represents a group of workers, that company’s entire workforce, or at least a defined portion of it, pays a fee designed to compensate the union for its bargaining activities. The argument supporting these fees is that the union’s actions benefit the entire workforce—not just union members—and the fee is nominal in the face of the influence of management and corporate owners. But anti-union interests argue those fees violate the First Amendment. Should the Roberts Court agree, the result would severely limit unions’ abilities to raise money for their operations and to effectively bargain on behalf of their members. Women and people of color, who make up the majority of public employee union membership, would feel the most severe effects in this scenario.

Evenwel v. Abbott

Evenwel is the latest in a series of “representation” cases dreamed up by Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation—which was behind Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Blum is also responsible for Fisher v. University of Texasthe case challenging the admissions policy at the University of Texas on the grounds that it discriminates against white studentsEvenwel challenges “one person, one vote”; though it concerns the drawing of state senate districts in Texas, the case has potential national implications. Under the 14th Amendment, states are allocated seats in the House of Representatives by “counting the whole number of persons in each state.” States follow this process when determining their own statewide districts, carving up districts based on U.S. Census Bureau population data and irrespective of the total number of registered voters in each. The plaintiffs in Evenwel argue that by counting children, documented and undocumented immigrants, many prisoners, and other non-voters, Texas denies “eligible voters their fundamental right to an equal vote.” If they win, legislative districts would become older, whiter, more rural, and more conservative. Political power would shift from urban areas to rural areas. Our elected officials would be even older and whiter than they already are. In other words, the gains made by the civil rights era in diversifying our elected bodies would be rolled back, the same way Shelby County v. Holder rolled back the voting participation gains made by the the Voting Rights Act.

Fisher v. University of Texas 

Race-based affirmative actions are again before the Roberts Court in Fisher v. University of Texas. Abigail Fisher applied to UT for admission into the undergraduate class of 2012. When UT rejected her application, she sued the university, alleging that it discriminated against her because she is white, even though of the 47 equally or “less” qualified students who were admitted over Fisher, 42 were white—only five were Black or Latino. Her case has made it up to the Roberts Court once before. The justices punted on the ultimate question of whether or not the University of Texas’ plan violated the Constitution, instead sending the case back to the conservative Fifth Circuit. After the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the University’s admission plan, again, conservatives ran the case back up to the Roberts Court.

During oral arguments, it became apparent that the conservative wing of the court is prepared to decimate affirmative action. Justice Scalia wondered whether admitting Black students into schools that might be too hard for them was doing them a disservice. Justice Roberts appeared frustrated that affirmative action still exists at all, and wondered what unique perspective a student of color brings to a physics class and whether diversity serves any purpose in that context. Given the Roberts Court’s palpable hostility toward any acknowledgement that race continues to be a decisive factor in the oppression of people of color in the United States, proponents of affirmative action are right to be concerned about the fate of race-conscious admissions policies at colleges and universities.

Courts of Appeals

Purvi Patel Conviction for Feticide 

Purvi Patel is an Indian-American woman who in July 2013 entered an emergency room in South Bend, Indiana, while suffering heavy vaginal bleeding. She initially denied to doctors that she had been pregnant, but eventually acknowledged she had miscarried. Patel told hospital staff the fetus was stillborn and that she had placed it in a bag in a dumpster. Doctors then alerted the police, who questioned her and searched her cell phone—all while she was in the hospital and under the influence of pain medication. During the search of her cell phone, police saw a series of text messages, which prosecutors later claimed made the case Patel had attempted an illegal abortion by ordering abortion-inducting medications and taking them. Police charged Patel with felony feticide and neglect of a dependent. The feticide charge presumed the fetus was stillborn, while the neglect of a dependent charge presumed a live birth. Despite this apparent conflict, a jury convicted Patel on both counts. Patel, who has no criminal record, was ordered to serve 20 years in prison. Attorneys have appealed her case, arguing there was no evidence she took any abortion-inducing medication. Attorneys for the State of Indiana have doubled down on Patel’s prosecution and defended their case, arguing as if it is good public health policy to radically restrict contraception and abortion access in the state and then criminally prosecute women whose pregnancies end in anything other than a successful live birth. 

Second-Trimester Abortions in Kansas

In 2015, Kansas became the first state to pass a ban on the most commonly used method of ending pregnancy in the second trimester, setting the stage for the next big legal showdown over specific abortion procedures. SB 95 bans dilation and evacuation (D and E) abortions—what anti-choicers like to call “dismemberment abortions”—and is based on legislation drafted by the radically anti-choice National Right to Life Committee. Oklahoma passed a similar version just one day after Kansas did, and copycat legislation has been introduced in both Missouri and South Carolina. Shortly before it was set to take effect in Kansas, reproductive rights advocates sued to block it. But instead of challenging the measure in federal court like most abortion-related challenges, advocates sued in state court, arguing the law violates Sections 1 and 2 of the Kansas Bill of Rights, which they say provide due process guaranteeing the government cannot infringe on personal liberties.

Because due process rights have been used at the federal level to protect the right to an abortion, pro-choice advocates argue the same should be the case under the Kansas Constitution. In December, the entire panel of judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals heard arguments as to whether a temporary order currently blocking the ban should be affirmed as the legal challenge proceeds. Regardless of how the court ultimately rules on the temporary order, the Kansas case is an important one to watch because it is in state court. Almost all of our abortion rights law comes from federal court challenges, but those have become increasingly hostile thanks to decades of conservative judicial appointments. State courts could, therefore, prove to be those rights’ final protectors.

Catholic Hospitals’ Refusal of Services

In 2010, a then-18 weeks pregnant Tamesha Means showed up at Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Michigan, in the middle of having a miscarriage. Mercy Health, a Catholic-sponsored facility, sent Means home twice, saying there was nothing it could do for her. It wasn’t until Means, a mother of three, returned to Mercy Health a third time—this time suffering from a significant infection as her miscarriage persisted untreated—that the hospital decided to treat her by offering her some aspirin for her fever. As Mercy Hospital was preparing to discharge Means once more, she started to deliver. The hospital decided at that point to admit Means and to treat her condition. Means eventually delivered a baby, who died within hours of birth.

Means sued Mercy Health, arguing that its adherence to the “Ethical and Religious Directives“—which, among other regulations, prohibit a pre-viability pregnancy termination—resulted in medical malpractice in her case. The lower court dismissed Means’ claims, ruling it did not have the power to interpret Catholic doctrine directly. Means appealed, and her case is currently before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, hospitals in California and Michigan face allegations similar to those in the Means case: that adherence to the directives has resulted in malpractice when treating reproductive health-care conditions. So far, courts have not taken this question of whether or not Catholic doctrine can override the medical community’s standard of care. But it is a fight they won’t be able to stay out of long, since one in nine hospital beds in this country are at a Catholic or Catholic-sponsored facility, and they appear to be turning away women in need at a pretty rapid pace.

Trial Courts

The Legal Battle Over the Planned Parenthood Tapes

Perhaps the biggest controversy to emerge from 2015 is the video smear campaign waged against Planned Parenthood by David Daleiden and his anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Daleiden’s months-long sting operation, which saw him infiltrate under false pretenses private meetings held by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), resulted in the release of video footage purporting to show that Planned Parenthood is in the grisly business of harvesting fetal “body parts” and profiting from their sale. This, despite the fact that there’s nothing illegal about fetal tissue donation programs and Planned Parenthood has been repeatedly cleared of wrongdoing by several state and federal investigations. Within weeks of the release of the first video, the NAF sued Daleiden and CMP in federal court. The court granted NAF’s request for an order blocking the further release of any video footage recorded at NAF’s private events. It also ordered CMP and Daleiden to turn over to NAF the names of Daleiden’s associates, accomplices, and funders. The information they gave is under protective order, but should the court decide to make that list public, we’ll find out which Republican operatives and politicians, if any, Daleiden worked with to perpetrate this deception.

Anti-Abortion Terrorism in Colorado Springs 

Robert Lewis Dear Jr. is accused of opening fire at a Planned Parenthood reproductive health-care facility in late November, killing three people and injuring nine, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has been charged in state court with 179 felony counts, including first-degree murder. If convicted, Dear could face the death penalty. Federal prosecutors are also investigating Dear for possible violations of federal law, including the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, the federal statute that makes it a felony to target for harassment abortion clinics, doctors, patients, and staff. Dear’s charges came after a summer of escalating violent anti-choice rhetoric following the CMP’s release of its deceptively edited footage. Conservatives insist their claims about “Planned Parenthood selling baby parts” had nothing to do with the Colorado Springs shooting, despite Dear reportedly telling officers “no more baby parts” when he was arrested and calling himself a “warrior for the babies” in court. Just how much influence did conservative anti-choice rhetoric and politicking influence Dear? We’ll find out during his trial in 2016.

Anna Yocca’s Trial for Attempted Self-Induced Abortion

Police arrested Anna Yocca, a 31-year-old woman from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in December after she allegedly tried to end her pregnancy using a coat hanger at home in her bathtub. During the attempt, Yocca began bleeding heavily and her boyfriend rushed her to the hospital, where doctors delivered a 1.5-pound baby boy. Yocca, who was approximately 24 weeks pregnant when she attempted to terminate her pregnancy, allegedly made “disturbing” statements to hospital staff, including admitting that she tried to self-abort. Her statements led a Rutherford County grand jury to indict her for attempted murder and imprison her in the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center. Should she be convicted, she faces life in prison.

The return of coat-hanger abortions is an alarming indicator of the repressive reproductive rights environment in Tennessee and around the country. Although prominent abortion opponents have claimed they are not interested in prosecuting women who try to self-induce an abortion, the increasing number of women—who include Jennie Lynn McCormackJennifer Ann Whalen, and the aforementioned Purvi Patel—who have been thrown in jail for allegedly doing so tells a different story. Prosecutors charged Yocca under the state’s general homicide statute, which opens the constitutional question of whether or not general homicide laws in Tennessee can be used to prosecute women who self-induce an abortion or who otherwise have a failed pregnancy outcome.

In other words, Anna Yocca is a test case for anti-choice prosecutors who want to find a legal hook to charge women who abort with murder.

Anything Else?

There’s always something else on the horizon when it comes to reproductive autonomy. We didn’t even include the many other legal challenges to the wave of anti-choice laws passed in 2015, or the explosion of “religious liberties” claims in response to marriage equality and the expanding protection of rights for transgender people. But don’t worry, folks. It may be shaping up to be one helluva year for reproductive rights and justice in the courts, but we’ve got you covered.

News Abortion

Oregon Bill Would Ensure Coverage for Reproductive Health Care, Abortions

Nina Liss-Schultz

Four Oregon lawmakers Thursday introduced the Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill, intended to ensure access to affordable, full-spectrum reproductive health care for every woman and transgender man in the state.

Four Oregon lawmakers Thursday introduced the Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill, intended to ensure access to affordable, full-spectrum reproductive health care for every woman and transgender man in the state. The bill, if passed, would make Oregon the first state in the nation to ensure every state resident is covered for every type of reproductive health care, including abortion, under all forms of insurance.

Backed by a handful of local groups, the bill is part of a larger progressive legislative effort announced Thursday that will also tackle sexual assault and domestic violence issues.

“I’m proud to be working with such a wide range of legislators and advocates on this issue,” state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Rewire. “We’ve got Republicans and Democrats, men and women, and advocates from across the spectrum who care deeply about this bill.”

Oregon is often considered a bastion of progressivism in a country battling over abortion and reproductive rights on both the federal and state level.

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The Oregon Health Plan (OHP) provides extensive Medicaid coverage of health care for low-income residents, including abortion, though that coverage is currently added as a line item in the governor’s budget each year. And there is only one anti-choice law on the books to date. Both of the Oregon’s legislative chambers are controlled by Democrats, and the state’s new Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who was sworn in last week following the resignation of John Kitzhaber, is widely seen as more progressive than her predecessor.

Still, even under a progressive government, efforts are needed to ensure that the funding and systems are in place for everyone to get the care they need. Even in Oregon, the high cost of family planning, abortion, prenatal, and childbirth care, among other reproductive-related services, can force people, particularly those with low incomes, to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or forgo important services during and after pregnancy.

“Currently, because of gaps in coverage, our clients have issues regarding lack of access to prenatal care and high teen pregnancy rates,” said Levi Herrera, executive director of the Mano a Mano Family Center in Salem, Oregon, which annually serves 2,000 families, most of whom identify as Latino immigrants. “Two-thirds of our clients are female. These women are part of the community, and having access to the full spectrum of health care will improve quality of life for everybody.”

Safety net health centers in 2012 alone provided contraceptive care to more than 123,300 women. In 2010, 46 percent of pregnancies in Oregon were unintended, and 32 percent of those pregnancies resulted in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

That same year, publicly funded family planning services helped women avoid 30,200 unintended pregnancies.

The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill seeks to close those gaps in access. The bill would require that all health insurancewhether private, employer sponsored, or public plans—cover contraception, abortion, prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care, including breast-feeding support and folic acid without prescription. Insurers would be barred from imposing cost-sharing for abortions at more than 10 percent of the cost of the procedure, and deductibles for abortions would be barred altogether. And, critically, the bill strengthens and protects existing abortion coverage under OHP by removing it from the annual budget and codifying such coverage.

The bill also ensures coverage for a 12-month supply of birth control, without cost, to be dispensed at one time, removing time and cost constraints faced by those who seek to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

Insurance plans would also be required to cover the cost of out-of-network provider care for these services under certain circumstances.

Access to preventive reproductive health services has increased significantly under the Affordable Care Act. As part of the law, insurers are required to cover a range of reproductive health services, including sexually transmitted infection counseling, contraceptive methods and counseling, and breastfeeding support, without cost-sharing.

But advocates in Oregon say the bill introduced today is significant, as both a proactive measure and a solution to holes in coverage.

“There are parts of the state statute that don’t align with the ACA, so it’s important to make sure state law aligns with federal,” Hayward said. “This bill standardizes across the board what we mean by access to full-spectrum reproductive health from pre-conception to postpartum.”

Reproductive rights advocates said the Oregon bill could prove critical, as the U.S. Supreme Court could soon gut the ACA’s federal exchanges and many Republican governors and GOP-dominated state legislatures refuse to expand health-care coverage.

“As the ACA is being eroded in states across the country, we’re trying to make sure that in this state there’s an assurance of care across all populations and for all Oregonians,” Aimee Santos-Lyons, director of programs for Western States Center, told Rewire. “Plus, there are still communities of women that don’t have access to coverage right now, so we want to start that process. And as we’ve recently seen, governors can change on a dime, so we want to make sure this kind of health care is is codified law in our state.”