Commentary Abortion

‘We Are Beatriz’: Supporting Beatriz, and All the Women Like Her Around the Globe

Jessica González-Rojas

Beatriz’s struggle to protect her health, live with human dignity, and find justice in a dark time—that struggle is one we cannot forget. The sad reality is, it is also a struggle that is all too common for women across the globe.

The following remarks were made by Jessica González-Rojas, executive director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, at Tuesday’s “We Are Beatriz” vigil in Washington, D.C.

I have been moved by the stories we’ve heard, and by the story that brought us together today.

Beatriz’s struggle to protect her health, live with human dignity, and find justice in a dark time—that struggle is one we cannot forget. The sad reality is, it is also a struggle that is all too common for women across the globe.

Women like Beatriz who live in Latin America are subjected to some of the most unsafe and inhumane abortion laws imaginable. These draconian bans have not reduced the need for abortion, but instead have created circumstances in which 95 percent of women live in countries where abortion is almost entirely outlawed, and, forced into the shadows, 95 percent of abortions performed are unsafe.

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It is no exaggeration to say that laws that make abortion expensive, unattainable, and illegal are a direct and serious threat to women’s lives.

But we need not look to Latin America to find stories of women struggling to get the health care they so desperately need. As we’ve heard today, women face a daunting array of systemic barriers to accessing reproductive health care, including provider shortage, lack of insurance coverage, discrimination, and poverty. These barriers are only worsened for women of color, including Latinas, immigrant women, and LGBTQ people.

While we can’t walk in her shoes, we can begin to imagine what it might be like for the one in three women who seek an abortion today. Like Beatriz, she is most likely already a mother, most likely in her 20s, and facing a deeply personal, critical decision about her pregnancy, her family, and her future.

She might live in a state like Texas, where the women’s health program has been dismantled by an anti-choice, anti-woman state government. She may live in Arizona, where anti-immigrant policies and stigma drive many women away from seeking health care. She may live in one of the 87 percent of U.S. counties with no identifiable abortion provider.

As a mother, I have felt the incredible responsibility and gravity of being pregnant, and of making the decision to become a parent. That experience only strengthened my resolve to defend the right of every other woman to do the same, on her own terms.

No one deserves to have a callous government deny her the care she needs to save her life.

It’s important to note that while restrictive abortion laws are terribly commonplace in Latin America, the Latino community, in the United States and abroad, recognizes the harms and injustice of these restrictions. Here in the United States, and contrary to the stereotype, Latinos are supportive of women’s decision-making, and stand ready to fight with us for a better tomorrow.

In fact, this past November, exit polling confirmed what our research had told us for years: A majority of Latino voters support a woman’s ability to make personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering.*

It’s time for us Latinos to “come out of the closet” as supporters of women’s reproductive health, and this need could not be more urgent. Next week, the House of Representatives will vote on a dangerous piece of legislation that would ban all abortion after 20 weeks, the latest in an endless stream of anti-choice, anti-woman policies that, where passed, have made abortion harder to obtain, and much harder to afford.

One of the most insidious restrictions on abortion today is the Hyde Amendment—a policy that restricts insurance coverage for abortion and leaves women scrambling to pay for the procedure out of pocket. In its nearly 40-year history, the Hyde Amendment’s shameful legacy has had heartbreaking, and sometimes lethal, consequences.

As we remember Beatriz’s name and story, we must also remember the women who did not survive these kinds of life-threatening restrictions on abortion.

Rosie Jiménez was a 27-year-old Latina college student and single mother who became pregnant after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal. She qualified for Medicaid, but because the Hyde Amendment had gone into effect two months earlier, she couldn’t get coverage for an abortion. Rosie was six months away from graduating with a teaching credential—a ticket to a better life for her and her 5-year-old daughter.

Unable to raise the money to pay for a legal abortion, she turned to an unsafe and illegal procedure. On October 3, 1977, Rosie died of septic shock, the first known victim of the Hyde Amendment, and a painful reminder that legal abortion means little to a woman without the ability to pay for it.

I wish I could say that things have gotten better. Unfortunately, our current policies all but guarantee that there are and will be more stories like Rosie’s.

Now more than ever, it is critical that we show women that we support them in their decisions, and that we will defend their health and human dignity from restrictive policies.

Earlier this year, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health launched a new effort called “Yo Te Apoyo. I support you.” to lift the voices of the Latino community and our allies in support of our sisters, our daughters, our primas, our tias, and any woman who is making a difficult decision.

Our communities honor the values of family, respect, and cariño; we take care of each other. That’s what Yo Te Apoyo is all about—respecting and supporting a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her pregnancy, her family, and her future.

One of the most important ways that we can and must support a woman’s decision-making is to ensure that abortion is not only legal, but affordable and meaningfully accessible for every woman who needs this care.

I ask each of you to join me in saying to Beatriz, and to every woman, no matter her circumstance or where she lives: I support you. Yo te apoyo.

Today, tomorrow, and until we have achieved salud, dignidad, y justicia for all.

Thank you.

——-

*Exit poll results found that about two-thirds of Hispanics (66 percent) said that abortion should be legal, while 28 percent disagreed. Among all voters, a somewhat smaller majority (59 percent) would allow legal abortions, while 37 percent were opposed. Click here for more information.

Commentary Law and Policy

Today We Celebrate; Tomorrow We Fight

Nan Little Kirkpatrick

The fight against the Texas abortion clinic shutdown law was brought to us, and we fought it. But we’re going to continue bringing the fight for true reproductive justice to our communities.

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right to an abortion when it struck down two provisions of the Texas abortion law known as HB 2. Texas abortion rights advocates, including myself, have waited three long and emotional years for this moment, and honestly it still hasn’t quite sunk in. Had the Court decided differently, we would’ve seen abortion access further devastated in our own state, and other states would’ve fallen like dominoes as well.

But on Tuesday, when we woke up from our celebrations, Texas still had less than half the clinics we had when HB 2 passed in 2013. People in areas like the Panhandle, where Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund used to fund people going to clinics in Lubbock, Abilene, San Angelo, and Midland, still have no clinics, and people there are still hundreds of miles from abortion care. Former TEA Fund Executive Director Merritt Tierce wrote about her anger over what this law did to people seeking abortion in Texas in the last three years, and the truth is, the law will continue to hinder access for a very long time.

Immediately following the ruling, the question on everyone’s lips was: “How long until we see clinics reopening in underserved areas?” The answer is that we don’t know. We know that it will take time and money for those interested in restoring access to find facilities, make those facilities operational, and re-staff in communities that have been without clinics now for years. It’s not as easy as flipping a switch.

Texas abortion funds TEA Fund and Lilith Fund took up the fight against HB 2 because laws like this are highly discriminatory against the people we’ve long servedlow-income people in Texas. HB 2 so devastated access in our state that after the passage of the law, a new procedural fund came online in El Paso, the West Fund, and practical support funds and organizations Fund Texas Choice, the Clinic Access Support Network, the Bridge Collective, the Cicada Collective, and the La Frontera Fund started quickly coming online or increasing their service capacity to help people with travel and lodging.

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Into the void of access rushed abortion advocates to fill the need, showing the power of organizing in the face of such reproductive oppression. Still, this system of mostly volunteer-led organizations figuring out how to cover the costs of thousands of people in Texas seeking care is a far cry from what we truly want: true reproductive justice for all people in the form of economic, racial, and gender justice.

There is so much left to do. TEA Fund has existed since 2005, long before HB 2 was even a gleam in some Texas lawmaker’s eye. We exist because we live in a state where there is no Medicaid funding for abortion access, and, even if there were, hardly anyone can access Medicaid in Texas anyway. We exist because of the huge disparities in economic opportunity in our state, disparities that especially highlight racial injustice. There are neighborhoods in the southern sector of Dallas where the population is about 98 percent Black and Latino and the median income is around $15,659, far below the state average of $53,035, while all the Dallas neighborhoods with median incomes over $150,000 are 85 percent or more white.

TEA Fund exists because many people still do not see the links between reproductive oppression, lack of health-care access more generally, and economic and racial oppression. We exist because of the Hyde Amendment, and we continue to work to see it removed. These are big, long-term battles, and TEA Fund and abortion funds are in these struggles alongside groups working against economic and racial oppression.

The fight against the Texas abortion clinic shutdown law was brought to us, and we fought it. But we’re going to continue bringing the fight for true reproductive justice to our communities, because we will only be able to say we truly won when people have complete equitable access to abortion and all forms of health care and security.

We needed this win, and there is no reason to discount the win. I am also so very proud of TEA Fund and our colleagues in this fight, as we have strengthened our own relationships with each other in the wake of the clinic closures so that we might better serve our various Texas communities. But what we need is for people to remain in this fight with us, because this win is just a beginning.

Commentary Sexual Health

‘Not the Enemy, But the Answer’: Elevating the Voices of Black Women Living With HIV

Dazon Dixon Diallo

National HIV Testing Day is June 27. But for longtime advocates, ensuring that the women most affected by the epidemic can get and influence care and policy is the work of many years.

I met Juanita Williams in the mid-1980s. She was the first client at SisterLove, the then-new Atlanta nonprofit I founded for women living with AIDS.

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, and many women will be tested during the observance. But when I met Williams, HIV was a growing reality in our communities, and women were not even recognized as a population at risk for HIV at that time.

This lack of understanding was reflected in women’s experiences when seeking care. Williams’ attempt to get a tubal ligation had been met with fear, ignorance, and hostility from a medical team who informed her she had AIDS. Not only did they refuse to provide her the medical procedure, the hospital staff promptly ushered her down the back staircase and out the door. Williams was left without information or counseling for what was devastating news.

A Black woman who grew up in Syracuse, New York, she had moved to her family’s home state of South Carolina. Her first major decision after her diagnosis was to leave South Carolina and move to Atlanta, where she believed she would get better treatment and support. She was right, and still, it wasn’t easy—not then and not now. Even today, Williams says, “Positive people are not taken seriously, and positive women are taken even less seriously. People think positive people are way down on the totem pole.”

As communities across the United States observe National HIV Testing Day and emphasize taking control of our health and lives, women’s voices are an essential but still neglected part of the conversation. The experiences of Black women living with HIV, within the broader context of their sexual and reproductive health, highlight the need to address systemic health disparities and the promise of a powerful movement at the intersection of sexual and reproductive justice.

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The urgency of adopting an intersectional approach to sexual and reproductive health comes to light when considering the disproportionate impact of HIV on women of color. Black women account for 69 percent of all HIV diagnoses among women in the South. Advocates also acknowledge the history of biomedical and reproductive oppression that Black women have suffered throughout American history, including forced pregnancy and childrearing during slavery to forced sterilization afterward. Keeping these matters in mind helps us understand how the HIV epidemic is a matter of sexual and reproductive justice.

Taking seriously the perspectives of women such as Williams would amplify our collective efforts to eradicate HIV’s impacts while elevating women’s health, dignity, and agency. This is especially pressing for women living with HIV who experience the greatest disparities and access barriers to the broad spectrum of reproductive health, including contraception and abortion.

The policy context has created additional barriers to advancing the reproductive health of women living with HIV. For example, the 2015 National HIV AIDS Strategy Update neglected to mention family planning or reproductive health services as arenas for providing HIV prevention care. Yet, in many instances, a reproductive health clinic is a woman’s primary or only point of access to health care in a given year. Providing HIV prevention and care in family planning clinics is a way to provide a space where women can expect to receive guidance about their risk of exposure to HIV.

As advocates for women living with HIV, we at SisterLove are committed to ensuring that human rights values are at the center of social change efforts to protect and advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and their families. We work to transform the policy frame to one that asserts women’s agency to make decisions that are best for themselves and their loved ones. We draw strength from the resilience and determination of the women we serve.

Several years after becoming deeply involved with SisterLove, Williams became an advocate for her own reproductive health and began speaking out on behalf of other Black women living with HIV. She eventually became a trainer, counselor, and health outreach worker.

Later, in 2004, Williams was the only woman living with HIV invited to be a main speaker at the historic March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. She is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother who has returned to South Carolina, where she teaches other women living with HIV about sexual and reproductive justice and human rights. Williams uses her own story and strength to help other women find theirs.

“Give [women living with HIV] a voice and a platform for that voice,” she has said. “Give a safe place to let their voices be heard and validate them …. We need positive women’s voices to continue to fight the stigma. How do we do that? We tell our stories and reflect each other. I am not the enemy, I am the answer.”

Advocates need strength as we work at many critical intersections where the lives of women and girls are shaped. We cannot address HIV and AIDS without access to contraception and abortion care; health and pay equity; recognition of domestic and gender-based violence; and the end of HIV criminalization. And as advocates for sexual and reproductive health in our communities, SisterLove is working alongside our sisters to support National HIV Testing Day and ensure all people have the information, tools, and agency to take control of their health.

Elevating the health and dignity of people living with HIV calls for special attention to the epidemic’s implications for women of color and Black women, particularly those within marginalized communities and in the Deep South. The voices and leadership of the most affected women and people living with HIV are essential to making our efforts more relevant and powerful. Together, we can advance the long-term vision for sexual and reproductive justice while working to eradicate HIV for all people.