For Latino And Latina Immigrants, Language Can Be A Major Barrier From Accessing Necessary Abortion Services
Itzel’s journey to the United States was long, and her asylum process to demonstrate “credible fear” about returning to her homeland felt even longer. Nevertheless, the Central American mother of one persevered, leaving detention and relocating to the Houston metro area to be reunited with her husband. Together, they were working toward rebuilding their lives, starting by saving money to buy a home, but then they received unexpected news.
“My life was finally beginning to fall into place when I found out I was pregnant with my second child,” Itzel, whose name has been changed because of her immigration status, told FIERCE.
The pregnancy wasn’t planned, and Itzel knew that she wanted an abortion. However, with limited English proficiency, economic barriers and unfamiliarity with U.S. health care and abortion laws, she did not know what options were available to her in the United States.
“I found a website that offered free ultrasounds, and I remember thinking how lucky I was in that moment. But when I made an appointment and asked the clinic for information about abortion services, they declined to provide me with direct answers. It was in that moment that I became aware of my misfortune,” she said.
Itzel is not alone in her experience. Most often the first step in seeking support for an unplanned pregnancy begins with a Google search. But crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), like the one Itzel visited, prey on individuals of color by using search engine optimization techniques and vague language to disguise themselves as unbiased reproductive health care services.
Immigrants with limited English proficiency are especially vulnerable. For example, some CPCs will only translate select portions of their website into Spanish and leave information that states that they do not refer for abortion services in English. Additionally, CPCs in regions with anti-immigrant policies often use tactics to lure undocumented clients to their clinics with language that suggest “no valid identification, no problem” to receive assistance.
The tactic of exploiting an individual’s vulnerability around citizenship status is concerning considering 39 percent of undocumented Latinxs report that they avoid seeking health care out of fear of deportation, with this number escalating in rural areas.
In Itzel’s experience, her appointment at the CPC delayed her ability to access reproductive health care, increasing the cost of her abortion by $550. This isn’t unusual. The price difference from a first trimester abortion to a second trimester abortion can vary from $850 or more. In an effort to mitigate costs, Itzel attempted a self-managed abortion using misoprostol. It was unsuccessful, and the experience left her feeling anxious about what options remained available and if she would be able to afford them.
“It was like one thing after another,” she said.
It took Itzel two more weeks to find a clinic that offered the procedure, and the center referred her to a local abortion fund with a Spanish hotline. However, the process of “getting there” to obtain an abortion, she said, felt unnecessarily long.
“I wish I had known that abortion funds existed prior to going through everything I had to endure just to be able to access an abortion,” Itzel lamented. “But I am grateful to God that I did find out about it in the end and was able to speak to someone in my native language about what I was going through and who offered me financial and emotional support.”
With one in six immigrants having abortions in their lifetime, it’s imperative that this community receive comprehensive reproductive health care information in their language. Without it, many are lost in translation. But, even armed with this data, many of the leading abortion funds still fall short.
Grassroots abortion fund organizations, such as the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), have taken steps to make resources more accessible to low-income and individuals of color; however, they still have more work ahead to be inclusive of immigrants with limited English proficiency. Currently, 17 of 76 NNAF-affiliated abortion funds provide information on their websites about how to access an abortion in a language other than English in the U.S.
While many of these funds do accept calls from non-English speakers who leave voicemails, regardless if their site is not available in another language or not, it’s not something that is explicitly stated on their website(s).
“We are still working toward a more language justice-centered model, both in our local abortion funds and at NNAF. We’re working deliberately and carefully because it’s a critical issue that is really important to all of us, including our staff members who speak Spanish with their families and communities,” Lindsay Rodriguez, communications and digital organizing manager for NNAF, told FIERCE. “This is a strong priority for us to continue growing and supporting more language accessibility in our network, and we appreciate being held accountable to this measure as we work toward a more just and equitable world for all seeking abortions.”
They’re not alone. DC Abortion Fund (DCAF), a leader in the movement to make abortions attainable to immigrant communities, currently provides language accessibility in English, Spanish, French, Amharic and Vietnamese. According to Deepika Srivastava, director of service delivery for DCAF, there is a full-time Spanish-speaking case manager who heads their new Spanish hotline. For those who don’t speak English or Spanish, however, the process is different.
“We usually end up going through a third-party, social worker, social services case worker, family member, etc., to interpret,” Srivastava told FIERCE. “Also, we have a list of CMs who we can approach on an ad-hoc basis. I think the hope in the future is that, as we build capacity, we can provide services similar to the Spanish-speaking line for these languages.”
While language accessibility is essential, it must be stated that many abortion funds are volunteer-operated, and for newly established funds, like the Abortion Fund of Arizona that was created last year, it can be challenging to be language-inclusive with limited volunteer power.
There is a solution to this problem, however. If these abortion funds were to collectively work together to translate information on their websites, or create a language bank that focused on interpretation and translation services, similar to American Red Cross Language Bank, it can help increase access to reproductive health care services and reduce the burden on each individual fund to recruit volunteers that speak specific languages.
If abortion funds, and reproductive justice organizations alike, want to work toward dismantling negative perceptions around the procedure and make it accessible to immigrants, then language inclusivity needs to be prioritized now rather than made some lofty goal for the future.
Language visibility in reproductive health care matters. If we don’t prioritize it, then we leave behind immigrants like Itzel, women and people with limited English proficiency who still desperately need access to abortion care.
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