By Kimberly Inez McGuire
As a Latina, it’s easy to be cynical about politics these days.
Whether we are talking about the failure of Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform or the unprecedented assaults on reproductive healthcare, across the country, Latinas are bombarded with conservative political attacks on our health and rights.
Despite all the attempts to bring us down, Latinas also have power, as a certain blowhard businessman has recently found out. And we are using that power to reclaim our rights and mobilize our communities.
In fact, just a few weeks ago Latinas played a crucial role in the introduction of groundbreaking new legislation: the EACH Woman Act. This bill, made possible by the leadership of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, will go a long way in making the legal right to an abortion a reality for those struggling to make ends meet.
The EACH Woman Act will stop politicians from interfering in our healthcare decisions by making sure abortion is covered for all – however much money we make, whatever kind of health insurance we have, and wherever we live. Practically speaking, this means Medicaid will cover abortion, as it did in the years after Roe v Wade and before Representative Henry Hyde began his crusade against abortion rights in the late 1970s.
From the very beginning, the Hyde Amendment exacted a cruel toll on Latina health and well-being. Just a few months after it was first passed, Rosie Jimenez, low-income mother and teaching student, was dead of an illegal abortion—because she couldn’t afford a safe one. In the years since, the Hyde amendment has pushed women seeking abortion into poverty, forced women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, and caused families to make impossible choices between paying for rent or groceries and paying for needed healthcare.
Recently, the impact of the Hyde amendment has been made even worse by the passage of an avalanche of state-level restrictions on abortion. For large and growing Latina populations in Florida, Virginia, Texas, and elsewhere, these restrictions mean delays in accessing care, invasive and medically unnecessary procedures, and politicians stepping between women and their doctors.
My mother used to say that women with money have always had abortion rights, and that those without rarely do. Now, she’s proven right every time I hear about another Latina struggling to find transportation because her local clinic was shut down, or scrambling to pay the steep cost of childcare and unpaid leave from work.
That’s why the EACH Woman Act is a game-changer for Latinas, who for too long have had our reproductive health decisions stripped away. Our abuelas, tias, and hermanas bear the scars of this ongoing struggle. From coercive sterilizations, to the exploitation of Puerto Rican women as unwilling test subjects for the birth control pill, to attacks on immigrant mothers, our community knows all too well what it is like to be told whether and when we are allowed to have children, have an abortion, or get the healthcare we need.
The EACH Woman Act addresses a critical piece of this struggle, namely whether politicians are allowed to deny access to abortion care just because someone is poor.
But enough about the lucha– let’s talk about the inspiring Latina leaders who are making this all possible. Latina congresswomen like Representatives Nydia Velázquez, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Linda Sánchez, who have co-sponsored the bill. Latina activists across the country who are organizing to support the bill. And I’m proud to be part of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the organization co-chairing the campaign to lift abortion coverage bans. This movement would not be possible without Latina leadership.
We stand with other women of color, young people, and low income communities in saying ‘enough is enough.’ For too long, our voices have been silenced. For too long, policies have been made about us but without us, policies that hurt our families and deny our humanity.
No more. We demand change. And as any Latina can tell you, once we set our minds to something, it’s sí se puede all the way.
Kimberly Inez McGuire is Director of Public Affairs at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH).