In October 1977, a Latina from Texas became the first person we know to have died due to a federal abortion coverage restriction that went into effect two months earlier. Rosie Jiménez died on October 3, 1977 with a $700 dollar scholarship check in her purse, six months before she was scheduled to graduate and provide a better future for her 5-year-old. Two months earlier – and only a few years after Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United Sates – a new coverage restriction had gone into effect; Medicaid stopped covering abortion care. Hoping not to sacrifice her family’s future by using her scholarship money, she sought a cheaper, illegal procedure just across the border from her hometown of McAllen, TX. She paid instead with her life. “[Rosie’s is] a story we all recognize as being indicative of so many hardworking, striving Latinas we know, the ones working to make ends meet and move their families forward,” said Lindsay Rodriguez, Communications Manager at the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Nearly 40 years later, coverage bans still affect Latinx disproportionately, and our communities are fighting back in innovative and creative ways. All Access – a free concert and performance in Cleveland, OH featuring entertainers like Sia, Jessica Williams, Teyana Taylor, and Leslie Jones – will seek to make a statement: it’s time to make abortion access a reality.
Joining the All Access stage is badass Mexicana and Grammy-winning artist Natalia Lafourcade, who is supporting the bold cause heartily, sin pelos en la lengua. “I’m very glad to have the opportunity [to support abortion access]. I think it’s important to spread the message as a woman, as a young person, as an artist. I’m glad to join these voices, to support women in their ability to make decisions about their bodies.”
Lafourcade is at the height of her career: on tour to support her critically acclaimed sixth album Hasta La Raiz, expanding her collection of awards, and one of the faces of a growing crop of young Mexican artists looking to their roots for inspiration. Few artists of her caliber are willing to speak about abortion at all, much less take a principled stance on a polarizing issue. But when I ask her if making the decision to participate was difficult, knowing that controversy could follow, she doesn’t hesitate. “Well look, it really is a delicate issue,” she begins. “There’s a lot of controversy around [abortion], but past that, what do we do with people whose hands are tied?”
Lafourcade touches on the importance of supporting low-income communities struggling with abortion care. The coverage ban that affected Rosie Jiménez is known as the Hyde Amendment, and is still in place today. It has meant that for decades, low-income people insured by Medicaid have had to figure out a way to cover a large, sudden, and unexpected cost if they are seeking abortion care. And though health care reform increased access to many types of reproductive health care, it also opened the floodgates for restrictions by explicitly allowing states to ban insurance coverage of abortion in state health insurance exchanges, where uninsured people with lower incomes are able to find cheaper, subsidized options.
It’s time to make abortion access a reality.
So when people seek ways to pay for an abortion, they are often left scrambling. If they’re lucky, they might find the phone number of a local abortion fund, a group of people (often volunteers) who raise funds to cover low-income people’s abortion care. “By the time someone calls an abortion fund, they’ve generally exhausted all the other possible means of paying for their abortions,” said Lindsay Rodriguez. “They’ve sold important possessions, taken extra shifts at work, borrowed money from friends and family, and still are just coming up short.”
Latinx in particular are deeply affected by these issues. Latinas typically make only 58 cents for every dollar white non-Hispanic men make, the lowest out of any other group of women, and recent analyses estimate that this pay gap means that Latinas can expect to lose more than a million dollars over the course of our lives. As a group, Latinos are disproportionately poor, and because many of us are immigrants, navigating unfamiliar health care settings, language, and documentation issues can all create hurdles along the way.
These intersecting life experiences can make abortion incredibly difficult for Latinx to access; the actual cost of the procedure is only the beginning. “In states that require mandatory waiting periods, they may need to arrange childcare for multiple nights, and take off multiple days of work, usually unpaid, at a time when they need money more than before,” said Rodriguez. “And the longer it takes to get the money together, the more expensive an abortion becomes.”
Though the common narrative around Latinos and abortion tends to focus on our communities as predominantly Catholic and conservative, the numbers tell a different story. Recent polling data found Latino voters’ views on abortion are in fact largely supportive. Most Latino voters don’t want to see Roe v Wade overturned, and a vast majority agrees with women making their own decisions on the issue without political interference. Two-thirds agree that abortion should remain legal even though some church leaders take a position against it. And on a personal level, 89 percent say they would offer support to a loved one who had an abortion. “We’ve learned that though many Latinos have complex feelings about abortion, they don’t believe that should be imposed on others,” said Jessica González-Rojas, Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “You hear these stereotypes that persist about Latinas and women of color not being supportive,” said González-Rojas, “But once they learn about the increased restrictions, they think it’s going in the wrong direction.”
“Music has the ability to awaken us. Our hearts open.”
In fact, Latinx have been at the forefront for abortion access efforts for decades, and today they are fighting to end coverage restrictions like the Hyde Amendment while filling in the gaps that increasing restrictions have created in their wake by fundraising to cover costs and related expenses with abortion funds and practical support networks.
But aside from changing policies and filling in gaps, Latinx today are seeking to curb stigma and change hearts and minds. We are shifting a culture of shame by telling our stories, organizing, and joining efforts like the All Access concert and its satellite events around the country.
“When music takes on these types of causes, these types of messages that wish to awaken conscience and shake things up – music always becomes a very powerful tool,” concludes Lafourcade. “Music has the ability to awaken us. Our hearts open, as do parts of ourselves that weren’t paying attention. These are the moments that become powerful.”
All Access goes down in Cleveland on September 10. More events will be held in Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta. Find information on tickets, performers, and satellite city events on the All Access website.