It seems like every day you hear about new legislation trying to regulate our reproductive rights. Many members of congress don’t seem to understand how important abortion rights actually are, and toy around with us by making it more difficult to obtain these procedures. It’s because of this constant threat of outlawing abortion that I’m always speaking out about the need for abortion access, and about my own personal experience with abortion. But the reasons don’t end there. In fact, my Latinidad plays a huge role in why I’m so outspoken about abortion rights.
I grew up in a fairly conservative household. Marianismo was very much a thing in my home, and I was raised under the false beliefs that women must be “pure” and cater to their men all at once. I never heard the word abortion growing up. The first time I ever even thought about it was when I turned 15, and my cousin (of a similar age) became pregnant. I wondered what would happen if I got pregnant myself. I knew I wasn’t ready to be a parent and figured if it happened, I would have an abortion.
It didn’t happen, though. My sex education (which was mostly pieced together from pop culture) served me well, and I knew enough (and lucked out enough) to not get pregnant unintentionally for quite a while. Still, I knew that others weren’t quite so lucky. Latinxs have had higher rates of teen pregnancy than other populations, as of 2014. While I don’t judge those who choose to become teen mothers, I know that teen pregnancy and unintentional pregnancy can often create barriers to financial success and financial independence later on in life.
Many of these girls are being raised to believe in and subscribe to machismo and marianismo, along with strong religious convictions. As a result, many keep their pregnancies because they don’t believe in abortion or have false information fed to them about it. While sexism and lack or sex education is a problem for many populations here in the U.S., it is especially true for Latinxs, especially for recent immigrants and first generation Latinxs. That’s why it’s so important to not only fight for abortion rights as a woman, but also as a Latina so other Latinas see that they too, have options. Abortions are as much for us Latinas, as they are for anyone else.
These negative beliefs around abortion stem from the fact that most Latin American countries ban abortion altogether. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Guyana and Puerto Rico are the only two countries that don’t restrict abortion, while six countries (including Nicaragua, where my own family is from) outlaws abortion in all cases, including rape, incest, and even when the health of the mother is in danger. Most of these countries have strong ties to Catholicism and Evangelism, which teach that abortion is “wrong” and that you’ll go to “hell” if you opt for the procedure. Because of this, sex education in schools is practically non-existent, and young people grow up with all kinds of misinformation. This was never more obvious to me than when I went to Nicaragua and spoke with a cousin who told me her boyfriend was planning to wear two condoms when she lost her virginity. I knew then that I needed to do more than simply be pro-choice myself.
My abortion rights activism began when I started volunteering as a clinic defender at my local clinic. During every election, I made sure to seek out and vote only for representatives who were pro-choice. I helped friends who needed abortions and helped them to find clinics, make appointments and provided emotional support. Years later, when I found myself facing an unintended pregnancy, I also made the choice to terminate. I didn’t personally find it to be a particularly hard decision, but it helped to read and hear the stories of others who also went through it.
That’s when I recognized how important it is to share abortion stories. I started writing about abortion rights and my own experience after that. And earlier this year, I even joined the 1 in 3 Speaks Campaign and shared my story live on YouTube. This year’s campaign spoke even further to me as a Latina, as it was centered around the Justice for Jane movement. Jane Doe was an undocumented woman who was detained by ICE and whose request to leave the premises for her abortion was continuously denied thanks to the efforts of the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd. Lloyd even went so far as to send people to pray over Jane to try and convince her not to go through with her abortion. While she was eventually able to get her procedure, many other undocumented persons (and no doubt, many latinas) are facing the same difficulties.
While we face many hurdles in seeking abortions here in the States, we are still fortunate that it has not been completely outlawed. I speak out about reproductive rights because I know many of my fellow Latinxs don’t have the access in their countries that I do in this country. I speak out because many are forced to become mothers against their will. I speak out because there are undocumented Latinxs here right now who are being prevented from accessing abortion. Mostly, I speak out because I know from experience, that abortion is not something to fear. It’s an important medical procedure, oftentimes life saving, and it can help many of us take our lives into our own hands and control our futures.