The midterm elections already promise to be historic, with more women of color stepping up to run for office than ever before and long lines at early voting locations that often have low turnout, like Texas. At the halfway point of the Trump presidency, voters are recognizing how much is at stake in this country, and that is especially true for Latinas because health care access, reproductive freedom, and immigrant rights are on the line.
Latinos have the highest uninsured rate in the country, but millions have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – in fact, Latinos saw the largest decline in uninsured rates of any ethnic group before and after the law’s passage. Still, Senator Mitch McConnell recently declared that Congress would revisit repealing the ACA if the votes are there after the midterms, making the election critical for the survival of the law and the ability of Latinas across the country to get the health care they need.
Latinos have the highest uninsured rate in the country.
Even with the ACA, an estimated half of uninsured Latinos are undocumented and therefore ineligible for insurance coverage. The health and rights of immigrant women, including a disproportionate number of Latinas, continue to be profoundly affected by immigration status. State legislatures continue to introduce legislation that would deny non-citizens access to basic public health programs. As a result, immigrant women are less likely to receive adequate health care, including reproductive health care.
Women of color are also 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 the care. For example, when Halley, a 32-year-old Latina mother of three from Texas, learned she was 13 weeks pregnant, she struggled to obtain the funds for the abortion she needed. She found with each passing week, she was “chasing the price. It goes up each week and I couldn’t keep up. So, my abortion was delayed.” Halley had to cancel two appointments due to her restrictive work schedule and lack of funding. By the time she was able to get the abortion, and due to the laws in Texas, she had to make multiple four-hour trips each way from Houston to Dallas to locate a clinic able to provide a later procedure at 19 weeks. The necessary travel and appointments required an unpaid week of work, in which she and her family suffered financially.
Women of color are more likely to live in states with the most restrictive abortion laws.
Without abortion coverage, a woman may have to make the impossible choice between paying for food or covering the cost of the care. One in three Latinas is enrolled in a federal insurance program affected by the Hyde Amendment, which withholds abortion coverage and creates an often-insurmountable barrier to care. Some may be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. But the Hyde Amendment is not permanent law; the lawmakers we elect to Congress have the opportunity to lift it each year.
What is ironic is that while politicians are erecting enormous barriers to abortion care, they are simultaneously erecting barriers to preventing pregnancy and controling the timing and spacing of their families. The 2014 Supreme Court decision Hobby Lobby v. Burwell permitted employers to deny their employees birth control coverage if they had “moral or religious objections.” No CEO, executive, or board of directors should be able to put religious views ahead of women’s health, and we know through a new non-partisan poll of Latina and Latino voters, that 82% do not see birth control as a religious issue. In fact, 86% of Latina and Latino voters see birth control as preventive care, and 90% support access to affordable birth control.
While these same politicians are making it harder for Latinas to access birth control and abortion care and therefore make decisions about whether and when to parent, they’re also condoning a cruel and dehumanizing “zero tolerance” family separation policy for lawful asylum-seekers that rips children from their parents’ arms and places them in cages. By June 2018, border agents had separated more than 2,400 immigrant children from their parents, mostly mothers. Lawmakers in Congress have the ability to put a stop to this humanitarian crisis as well.
They could use their authorization and appropriations powers to abolish ICE – a government agency set up in 2003 that, along with Customs and Border Protection, has become a mass deportation force. Lawmakers have the power to ensure the immediate reunification of families and question the agencies responsible for implementing these policies in public hearings. They simply need the political courage to do so.
Being a Latina in the United States may feel hopeless and overwhelming but this is not a runaway train. Just as legislators put dangerous policies in place, so can they take them away. With over 29 million Latinas and Latinos eligible to vote, our power is in electing the lawmakers who will stand on the side of justice and fight for policies that ensure that our families and communities can thrive.