Reproductive services are a key component to health of Latina women

Reproductive services are a key component to health of Latina women
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If the midterm elections made anything evident, it’s the fact that Latinx voters became more engaged, overwhelmingly favoring candidates with messages that resonated with their concerns. From the resounding early election turnout across the country to the record-breaking wave of Latinas and women of color elected who have never seen any representation in Congress, Latinas/os may be finally realizing their full potential in U.S. politics.

Halfway through Trump’s first term, on the heels of the recent confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and with the increased xenophobic rhetoric all around us, many Latinx voters are galvanized to engage in a political system. They're motivated by the fact that their very basic rights are threatened, namely, access to health care, reproductive freedom and immigrant rights. This fight, however, did not end with the elections.

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Just last week, we released the results of a national poll we commissioned to explore Latinx voters’ views and experiences regarding contraception and abortion. For us, these polls are an important step in depicting an accurate representation of the opinions, experiences, barriers and realities that we see Latinxs, our families and communities face on a daily basis. The results, non-surprisingly, confirm what we already know about our community's beliefs and needs for affordable birth control.

According to our poll, 44 percent of Latinas reported recent struggles with access to birth control. This is not surprising. In fact, women of color are more likely to live in states with the most restrictive abortion laws, which means it’s harder for Latinas to get to a provider and afford basic reproductive health care.

In our daily work in communities like the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, we come across stories like that of Esmeralda Santiago, who has been living in the U.S. for over 13 years and who, unlike her U.S. citizen children, is undocumented. Shortly after Esmeralda delivered her last child, her husband died in a car accident.

She was left as the sole caretaker and family breadwinner for five children under age 11. It is within this context that she discovered she was pregnant. For her, the struggle of being a pregnant widow with five children was exacerbated by worries about becoming sick, particularly at a time when she needed to stay healthy for her children. She didn’t know where to go for any kind of health care, reproductive, preventive or otherwise. After they cut funding and made contraception restrictions even harder, paying full price for contraception became a luxury Esmeralda simply could not afford.

This is the reality for individuals seeking reproductive health care, particularly those facing issues with their immigration status, who live in areas where these harsh laws have become more and more prevalent, for example:

1. In Texas, as of May 1, 2018, most people in the state must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage individuals from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours and public funding is available for the procedure only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.

2. In Florida, a pregnant person must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must offer them the option to view the image.

3. In Virginia, most people seeking abortion care must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage them from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.

4. In other states, people who earn low-incomes must pay for abortion services out of their own pocket, sometimes foregoing rent or food to do so.

Despite these sobering facts, a large majority of Latinx voters polled (87 percent) agree there is a correlation between the overall health of their community and access to birth control and other reproductive health-related services. In fact, most of those surveyed (a whooping 81 percent) agree that whether it is private or government-funded health coverage,  every person should have coverage for full range of pregnancy related care, including abortion. In addition, they believe we must uphold the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade, while fighting to ensure that those rights are in reach for all who need it. In fact, a whopping 74 percent feels it is important that the new Supreme Court justice uphold access to safe legal abortion.

We must make a commitment to continue pushing policy makers to do what is right for us and the ability of our families and communities to thrive. Having access to basic reproductive health care, including contraception, is vital to Latinas and other communities of color’s ability to plan their future and their families. It means that more people like Esmeralda will be able to get the reproductive care they need and deserve.

NLIRH believes that access to reproductive services is a key component to the overall health and well-being of Latinx and is an integral part of attaining reproductive justice for all people. We will not stop fighting until all people have access to adequate and affordable reproductive health care and neither will Latinx. The future of our communities deserves our commitment to the fight.

Ann Marie Benitez is the senior director of government relations at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH).