Things are about to get a lot worse for Latinas.
I say that as an optimistic community advocate, having spent the last twenty years leading Esperanza United, formerly Casa de Esperanza. We’re the largest, most respected organization mobilizing Latin@s to end gender-based violence. To do this type of work, you have to believe in progress—that positive and inclusive change is possible, that individuals can make a difference, and that collectively we can create the conditions for everyone to thrive.
I do believe those things, but I cannot pretend that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is anything but disastrous for Latinas and particularly Latina survivors of gender-based violence including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking. Overturning Roe v. Wade, limiting reproductive rights, and making the right to choose abortion no longer the law of the land will result in dire consequences for Latinas.
For one, returning to the states the ability to set laws around abortion further entrenches ethnic, socio-economic, and regional differences. Those who are well off will be able to remain so with the ability to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, including accessing abortion. For those who are struggling, it will be just that much harder and more dangerous.
In many communities, healthcare is already out of reach, because of geographic, time-constraint, or cost issues. Overturning Roe v. Wade makes matters worse by shuttering community clinics that provide vital health services.
Policies that disproportionately affect the poor also disproportionately affect Latinas. Of any demographic group, Latinas have the lowest average income and so the least amount of flexibility when something unexpected occurs—like an unplanned pregnancy.
In addition, about a third of Latin@s are immigrants, with 13 percent of the populace here without documentation. Undocumented immigrants deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Instead, they face abuse and limits on their movement and freedoms, unable to cross international borders or even travel within states without fearing they will be permanently separated from their families and homes.
With Roe v. Wade overturned, undocumented immigrant survivors will now have an even harder time accessing healthcare, reproductive or otherwise. Undocumented immigrants have already faced abusive and invasive reproductive healthcare procedures, as we have seen in the 2017 case of Jane Doe and the 2020 cases of unwanted hysterectomies in Georgia. Overturning Roe v. Wade makes these human rights violations worse.
For survivors of gender-based violence, it is only more complicated. In my decades working with Latinas and Latin@ communities, I have seen all sorts of abuse that interfere with Latin@s reproductive rights: partners controlling access to birth control, putting holes in condoms, threatening existing children, lying about their ability to conceive, and, of course, committing rape. In these situations, it is even harder for pregnant people to make informed, active choices about when, how, and if they want to grow their families.
There are several states that support exemptions for rape and incest, but why is it that we only have body autonomy after we’ve been violated? And how can we expect medical professionals to implement these exemptions when we are asking them to be judge, jury, and doctor all at once?
Individual states such as Texas should not be replicating abusive dynamics. I firmly believe that Latinas know what is best for them and when given the ability, make the best choices for themselves and their families. It is wrong to take that away from them.
I also know that 40 percent of Latin@s support outlawing abortion in all or most cases. At the same time, feminists in Latin America are leading a green wave toward more equal rights, countering femicide and legalizing abortion across the hemisphere from Mexico to Colombia to Argentina.
Our community, as always, is diverse and multifaceted. That is why we must begin talking to each other more about what reproductive justice looks like—even if it makes us uncomfortable. It is urgent we have these conversations now and have them honestly.
We need to unveil the realities of abortion: that women who undergo the procedure aren’t anti-mother, that one’s religious beliefs should not impede another’s rights, that individuals are best at deciding whether they should remain pregnant or not. There are all sorts of tools to help us have these conversations. Check out the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, Catholics for Choice, or even the PBS documentary On the Divide.
While it feels like the United States is entering into a darker hour and regressing on human rights, I draw strength from my community. Too many individuals will be unfairly persecuted or even killed by these unjust policies, but Latinas will persevere. I will do so for myself, and for our sisters, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and friends because I want us to do more than survive.
I want Latinas to thrive, and to do that, we must resecure the rights, access, and power to determine our own destinies.
Patti Tototzintle is the CEO and president of Esperanza United, formerly Casa de Esperanza: the National Latin@ Network, the leading and federally designated resource center mobilizing Latin@s to end gender-based violence. Twitter: @EsperanzaUnited