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.
*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.