Melissa Harris-Perry: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and we're continuing our conversation about women's health. Let's start with a few troubling statistics. About 16% of Latinas have not visited a doctor in the last two years. Latinas are also the group of women most likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and because of higher poverty rates and lower rates of insurance coverage, Latinas have less access to contraception, and more than 50% of pregnancies among Latinas are unintended. Now, despite these startling inequalities, Latinx communities are often excluded from mainstream conversations about reproductive health, which is exactly why Latinx people have organized on their own behalf.
Lupe Rodriguez: One of the things to know about the Latinx community is that we are resilient. We are leaders in our own fights in our communities, and we are building a future for ourselves that really takes us beyond what the courts throw at us, what our legislatures throw at us.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We spoke with Lupe Rodriguez. She's Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, and Lupe started by telling me a bit about the stories often missing when it comes to Latinx communities and reproductive health.
Lupe Rodriguez: I think in terms of reproductive justice right now, one of the things that's the most incredible for the Latinx community is that we are living through unprecedented times. As you know, this has been a terrible year for Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice, and the truth is, of course, that our communities have been struggling for access to reproductive care that includes birth control, preventative screenings, prenatal care, postnatal care, and abortion for decades, right?
These bans and restrictions that are keeping us from the reproductive health care that we need, really are disproportionately hurting our communities, our Black communities, our Indigenous communities, but we're fighting back. I think that that's part of the story here, that we've been facing these barriers for a long time and we're fighting back.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you said this has been a horrible year, obviously, yes, relative to state legislative action restricting access to abortion and other reproductive rights, but I thought you were going somewhere else. I thought you were going to talk about COVID-19 and it occurs to me that it has also been a particularly horrifying year and a half for Black and Latinx communities relative to COVID-19 infections and deaths. Can you talk about the work that your organization does generally, but then in the context of this particular global pandemic moment?
Lupe Rodriguez: Yes, absolutely. I meant to share exactly that. The barriers that we've already been facing to reproductive health care are made worse, of course, by the fact that we lack access to regular health care as it is, and with COVID-19, the effects of all of these inequities that we face for a long time have become increasingly stark for our community. We know that this pandemic has undoubtedly affected those with the least resources.
We've seen it on the ground in our communities, and the places where we organize at Latina Institute, particularly in states like Florida, and Texas, where for years politicians have worked to dismantle safety nets and fail to protect the health of our residents. In states like Florida and Texas, specifically, people have been facing this pandemic with less resources and less coverage. They've lost jobs and lost family members to the pandemic. At our own organization, we've had many losses and our community feels it really, really deeply.
I think the way that this ties into the work that we do at Latina Institute, is that we're constantly fighting for access to health care for everyone. We really think about this specific and undue effect on immigrant communities as well because as many of you know, those communities lack basic access to even any kind of coverage. Even if you are a legal permanent resident in the US, you have to wait five years after you have your legal permanent residency in order to be able to have access to Medicare or to CHIP, or to other health care programs.
Many folks don't know also that if you're undocumented in this country, you don't even have access to anything in many places and you can't even buy access into the ACA or any other health care coverage program. We really think about that, that our communities have been largely impacted by this and even more so than others. That has exacerbated so many of the inequities and made it even worse for what we're facing now in terms of reproductive health care, which is part of what we think about at Latina Institute.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're talking about the key states where you all work, Florida, New York, Texas, and Virginia. Can we just go ahead and talk about Texas for a minute?
Lupe Rodriguez: This year, abortion restrictions have reached a record high and of course, after Governor Greg Abbott signed the measure that bans abortions in Texas as early as six weeks, which is before many people even realize that they're pregnant. Texas now, because of this has the most restrictive ban on abortion care in the country and we're hearing every day from folks on the ground that providers have been forced to turn countless people away without the care they need. It's incredible that this law is even in the books, that it's even being upheld. It's incredibly unconstitutional, and we are seeing the effects of it every day right now.
I think one thing that I'd like to lift up that we're really thinking about at Latina Institute is about the community members who are not able to leave the state. We're hearing stories of folks who are having to leave the state to get the care they need in record numbers but there are communities, specifically immigrant undocumented communities who cannot leave. Many folks don't know that, especially in the Rio Grande Valley where we are, there are internal checkpoints that keep people from being able to move and keep them hostage in the area that they are. These folks have already had very little access to care and now are essentially without any abortion care in the state of Texas.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me a bit about the attitudes in Latinx communities regarding various aspects of reproductive rights and reproductive justice. I know that at times, in doing this work I'll hear folks say, "Oh, the Latinx community is all anti-abortion." "Catholicism keeps folks from needing or wanting access to these services," and I think that's not right. Help us understand what is right and what the range of experiences and needs are in this community.
Lupe Rodriguez: Our communities are first of all, not monolithic. There's that. I think we come from so many different countries, some of us who speak Spanish, as a connecting factor, but there's so many different experiences in the community. Absolutely, what we found over the years through the different polls, through our work on the ground is that our communities want the same thing everybody else does. We want access to health care. We want access to jobs. We want to be able to feed our children, to have good schools and we recognize that that includes having access to all of the health care we need, including contraception, including abortion care, including the gamut of reproductive health care.
Specifically, around abortion care, over 70% of our community members believe that abortion should be safe and accessible to anybody who needs it, even if they personally would not have an abortion or don't believe in abortion. I think that that's the beauty and the thing that's really special about our community is that we seek to help each other, we really believe that we're there for our community members if they need us.
Again, we want the same freedoms and the same access to things that everybody else has and we believe that that should be upheld by our systems of legislation and policy. Yes, I think that that's an important point to raise, we do face an undue amount of barriers and challenges to be able to have the same care and the same access to services that everybody else has.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm so interested that voter education, voter registration, election work is also part of your work. Why is voting part of reproductive justice work?
Lupe Rodriguez: Well, voting is such an important part of this because we know that we have to manifest our power in the systems that we currently exist in. I will say that at Latina Institute we approach our work through a reproductive justice lens, really thinking about how we dismantle the systems of oppression that target our communities, and again, keep us from being able to have the lives that we need or that we want.
It's so important for us to think about how we're participating in the systems that exist so that we can change them; so that we can dismantle them. We really are thinking about the next generation of folks who will take on leadership, and really having them reflect who we are, what we need as a community. At Latina Institute, one of the things that's really important for us is building power among our own community. regular folks in their homes thinking about the way that these things affect them, really building their power to be able to fight for themselves, to be able to expand access to quality reproductive health care, to think about access to health care in general, to really think about all of the different intersecting issues that affect their lives and to stand up to fight for them.
We really believe that the future is about ensuring that folks who've been silenced and ignored have a seat at the table, drive the discussions in the future, and are taking the lead. Voting is just a part of that, but really our bigger focus is on building power and ensuring that folks use their vote. Use every other measure that they have in their hands to be able to create change for themselves and their communities.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As you're thinking about that, building that power, what are the kinds of policies that need to be in place at both the state and the federal level to truly support reproductive health and justice for the Latinx community?
Lupe Rodriguez: Well, there are so many things happening at various levels right now. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, there are so many restrictions that have come up, but we're responding. One of the things that we at Latina Institute are working on, helping pass is the Women's Health Protection Act. Which is a piece of legislation that would basically create a statutory right for providers to provide and people to receive abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions that single out abortion care.
WHPA, as we call it for short, would overrule state laws across the country that unnecessarily restrict abortion like the bill in Texas, like SB4, which is another bill that is going through which restricts medication abortion. If this passes in the senate, it just passed the house last week, we can see these kinds of terrible pieces of legislation that are just intended to curb access dismantled and go away. We're hopeful for that.
We're also really interested in the HEAL for Immigrant Families Act which would expand access to health care for everyone living in our country regardless of their documentation status. As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that we think about a lot is that not everybody who lives in our communities has the same access. Even if we were to say that restrictions are gone through the Women's Health Protection Act, but many of our community members especially those who are undocumented or have different immigration statuses don't have access. We really want to get at that with the HEAL for Immigrant Families Act.
Those are just a couple of things. I know there are myriad pieces of legislation in different states that are supporting and expanding access to care and we're really interested in that. We're working on something in Virginia called RHEA, the Reproductive Health Equity Act. There's so many different things happening that we're trying to balance with responding to some of these retrogressive pieces of legislation in the states.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Where do you find hope? What is a space or place where you've seen things actually moving forward? Even if that hope it's just in the work that you all are doing yourselves, where do you find it?
Lupe Rodriguez: I think absolutely, I find hope in the [unintelligible 00:13:02], as we call them that work on the ground in Texas, in Florida. I get a little bit emotional thinking about them. They are on the front lines; the ones who would be most affected by these pieces of legislation or who are the most affected, and yet they're resilient. They're on the ground and speaking up for community and really relentless in their fight. They give me a ton of hope.
It also gives me hope to know that so many in our communities don't want to see this turning back of the clock on reproductive health care or health care access. That we are the majority, and we see that time and time again and I think we're getting to a place where I think that power of our collective majority will manifest in a better world and in better policies for us, but I really think that knowing that and hearing that from the perspective of all the activists that we work with across the country and again, seeing the everyday work that our communities are doing to fight back despite, again, being the ones who are the most affected is really moving and giving me lots of hope for the future.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Lupe Rodriguez is the Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. Lupe, thank you so much for joining us.
Lupe Rodriguez: Thank you so much, Melissa.
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