Jessica González-Rojas

New Leaders for Reproductive Justice - March 17, 2013

Jessica González-Rojas
March 17, 2013— Washington, D.C.
Print friendly

Gonzalez-Rojas spoke to the National Council of Jewish Women as one of its "New Leaders for Reproductive Justice" at Washington Institute 2013.

I don't know if I need to make the case why an organization like Latina Institute exists, but I do want to make the case – particularly to you all – but I do want to make the case why access to reproductive health care and abortion, what does that look like for the 24 million Latinas in this country today?

And while we can't walk in her shoes, we can begin to imagine what it means for a Latina who seeks an abortion today. She's most likely already a mother. She's most likely in her twenties. And her reasons for seeking an abortion may be to protect her health, to plan her family, to pursue an education or to take care of the children she already has.

She may or may not speak English, and she may or may not have documents like a green card, a driver's license or a passport. And for a Latina without documents, she may have to seek abortion care within an underground support network and may not encounter safe, legal spaces to obtain a safe abortion.

She may live in a state like Texas where – there's some Texans in the room – we know that the women's health program has been decimated and it's mostly been decimated by anti-choice, anti-woman state government.

She may live in Arizona. Any Arizonans in here? In Arizona, we're seeing anti-immigrant policies and stigma drive many women away from seeking health care and other critical services. I heard from providers and clinics in Arizona wondering why on a particular day, they had no patients. It was because a Border Patrol truck was parked in their parking lot.

She may have a loving, supportive family and partner, or she may be experiencing intimate partner violence, abuse or contraceptive coercion. She may have grown up with misinformation about sexual health or with no information at all.

And if she does decide to seek an abortion, she may live in one of the 87 percent of counties with no abortion provider.

So week we can't begin to understand the complex factors and unique circumstances that weigh in her mind and play a role in her decision-making. And regardless of how we feel about her decision, it's not our place to judge her. Everyone deserves the ability to make this decision for themselves regardless of race, immigration status, language, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, source of insurance or how much money she has in her pocket.

And regrettably for that woman, seeking an abortion the last few years have made things more difficult, as we all know.

2011 and 2012 saw anti-choice legislators introduce and enact record numbers of provisions that make it harder, make it more complicated or make it more expensive for a woman to access abortion services. And we know anti-choice governors and legislators are just not backing down. Right. And that's why what you're doing its important.

And most Americans have heard of Roe v. Wade, but few know the name Rosie Jimenez. And Rosie's story actually tells us more about abortion in America than any Supreme Court case does.

Rosie Jimenez was 27 years old. She was a Latina college student and a single mother, and she got pregnant after Roe became legal. She qualified for Medicaid but because the Hyde Amendment – boo – the Hyde Amendment had gone into effect two months earlier, she couldn't get the coverage for the abortion that she needed. Rosie was six months away from graduating from a public nursing background, and it was a ticket for a better life for herself and her family. Unable to raise the money to pay for a legal abortion, she turned to unsafe and illegal procedure, and on October 3, 1977 – when I was one years old – 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 who can't afford it.

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

One in four Latinas live in poverty, and Latinos are more than twice as likely to experience an unintended pregnancy, twice as likely to get their insurance from a public source. In denying public insurance coverage for abortion, current law leaves very few options for the one in four Latinas who use Medicaid, serve in the military or otherwise rely on public insurance.

So the dire impact of the Hyde Amendment and restrictions like it cannot be underestimated. Reversing these policy must be a top priority in order for the promise of Roe to be realized.

And despite the sobering news from state legislators in the field, we actually have a lot to be proud of and we have great hope for the future.

For years, advocates and organizers working with Latinos have seen firsthand our community's compassion and support for women's reproductive decision-making.

In 2011, Latina Institute along with our colleagues at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, we conducted the largest-ever opinion poll about Latina attitudes on abortion. And what we found affirmed our own experiences working with women in the community. Eight in 10 Latinos – and that's men and women – support a close friend or family member who needed an abortion.

And while this past November we even saw exit polls, independent of Latina Institute's poll, that reconfirmed our findings. Sixty-six percent of Latino voters supported a women's ability to make personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering.

And despite the persistent and unfortunate stereotypes around Latino's cultural and political and religious beliefs, the data is clear. We are supportive and we're getting more and more supportive every day.

And this support has translated into concrete wins for our community. In the past four years and most notably in in November's election, Latinos were instrumental in electing pro-choice, pro-women policymakers; expanding the rights for LGBT and immigrants; and defeating personhood amendments and [unintelligible] abortion bans in different communities.

And I know the National Council of Jewish Women have leaders from around the country here in DC to do advocacy and leadership development. And interestingly enough, at this very moment we have a team of folks from around the country – Latinos from all walks of life, from all parts of the country – in a hotel a couple of blocks away, a couple miles away maybe, and we're doing the same work you are.

We have activists like Lucy Félix. Lucy Félix is a promotora who's working colonias in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to educate her friends, her neighbors about sexual health. And many in her community are undocumented and lack access to basic health care

Or activists like Gloria Malone, who was a young mother from New York who recently came to DC to tell policymakers what it's really like to raise children while going to school, while working, while being an activist, a blogger and a peer educator. And by the way, check the New York Times. Gloria authored an amazing op-ed in the New York Times denouncing the use of stigma and shame from the New York City Department of Health effort to prevent teen pregnancy. It's entitled "I was a teen mom."

So Latina Institute recently launched an effort called Yo Te Apoyo/ I Support You, and this effort is to lift up the voices of the Latino community and of our allies, our sisters, our daughters our tias, our primas – any woman who's making a difficult decision. And by standing up and standing together, we will fight back against these outdated conservative myths about Latinos and as well as harmful policies that deny women the care they need.

Yo Te Apoyo is about understanding that life is complicated – we all know that – and that many factors play into a decision about pregnancy and about parenting. Factors like whether women have legal immigration status or access to health care without fear of deportation or stigma by providers who may treat them like a second-class citizen.

We work to ensure that women get health care with dignity, and I thank the National Council for Jewish Women for walking hand-in-hand with Latina Institute on issues like immigration reform, like justice for immigrant women and around repealing the Hyde Amendment. And I ask each have you to join me in saying that every woman, no matter her identity, no matter her circumstance - Yo te apoyo, I support you.

Thank you so much.

Speech from