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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.

Read: This Latina Lawmaker Is Fighting To Make Medication Abortions Available On California Public University Campuses

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Argentina’s Abortion Advocates Take To The Street To Protest After Bill Was Shot Down

Argentina’s Abortion Advocates Take To The Street To Protest After Bill Was Shot Down

On Thursday, Argentina’s Senate voted against the legalization of elective abortion. The decision on abortion rights is shedding a spotlight on the country’s ongoing struggle to keep religion out of its politics as it continues to be dominated by the power of the Catholic Church.

The proposed abortion bill was rejected at a vote of 38 to 31.

The bill, which sparked heavy debates and protests in the weeks leading up to the vote, would have allowed women to end their pregnancies in the first 14 weeks. The country’s latest decision means that women seeking abortions must fall into two categories: those who seek to terminate a pregnancy that came as a result of a rape, and those whose pregnancies threaten their own life and health. In response to the decision on abortions, The Guardian published a report that found  3,030 women have died in the country at the hands of an illegal abortion since 1983. Another statistic from the report estimates that every year, nearly 45,000 to 60,000 women have to be hospitalized after suffering complications from these procedures.

Since the decision was made, women are speaking up about why they are pro-choice.

Many are underlining why access to abortion is a women’s health issue.

Others have pointed out that such a decision affects women’s mental health as well.

Many have highlighted that few advocates are pro-abortion but rather pro giving a woman a chance to make her own decision about her health and future.

So many of women across the globe are tweeting out their support as well.

Argentina, which is the birthplace of the current Pope of the Catholic church, remains a largely Catholic country. Just like many Latin American countries where abortion debates continue to rage on.

There’s no denying the disappointment the vote has caused for women’s rights advocates across Argentina. In the hours after the decision was made thousands of women spilled into the streets around the National Congress in Buenos Aires. Fortunately, activists are already planning to fight for the bill in the 2019 legislative session.

Read: Jeff Sessions Is Attempting to Illegally Block Victims of Domestic And Gang Violence Asylum

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At This Women Of Color-Run Texas Clinic, Low-Income Mamis-To-Be Receive Free Pregnancy And Birth Support

things that matter

At This Women Of Color-Run Texas Clinic, Low-Income Mamis-To-Be Receive Free Pregnancy And Birth Support

(Courtesy of Cindy Elizabeth)

Pregnancy can be one of the most intimate and transformative experiences in someone’s life. But for many low-income women of color, outside factors, like the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through to attain government assistance, could make it one of frustration, stress and trauma. In Austin, Texas, Mama Sana Vibrant Woman helps ease the hurdles and empower Black and Latina women by offering them free pregnancy and birth support.

The nonprofit organization, which includes wellness clinics, offers expectant mothers culturally-specific assistance, like support groups, exercise classes, nutritional help, acupuncture, meditation, access to doulas and a network of midwives, as well as education on topics like prenatal care, labor positions, comfort measures and overcoming fears — all at no cost.

Beyond offering health services, the founders, all women of color who have dealt with oppressive and discriminatory systems during their own pregnancies or early child-rearing years, aim to offer a holistic approach that includes the emotional wellbeing of mothers. They hope to educate and empower women so that they know their options during the pregnancy and postpartum stages of their lives and are equipped to advocate for themselves and one another.

“For us, it was about building power to really impact how they feel about themselves and how they feel about their children and community,” Kellee Coleman, who co-founded the organization in 2012, said at a recent panel.

Mama Sana Vibrant Woman began with an all-volunteer collective of Black and Latina mothers known as Mamas of Color Rising that formed in 2008. The women all faced challenges, ranging from difficulty acquiring and maintaining Medicaid for themselves and their children to barriers in receiving and keeping food stamps and affordable housing, and wondered if their struggles weren’t unique.

(Courtesy of Mama Sana Vibrant Woman)

Their fears that the issues they experienced were widespread were confirmed by a community survey.

“We sat at various welfare centers, WIC offices and public schools during times that mothers were waiting and approached them with our community survey,” Paula X. Rojas, a member of the subgroup of Mamas of Color Rising that launched Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, told FIERCE. “We found a pattern of mothers of color facing discrimination, lack of autonomy or decision-making power during pregnancy and birth.”

The 100-plus mothers surveyed expressed feelings of alienation and disempowerment that set off chain reactions that affected them throughout parenthood.

“From there, we identified that working toward ‘birthing justice’ could serve as a key point of community intervention to address what we began to call the ‘womb-to-prison pipeline,’” she said. “We spent the following few years building collective power and organizing to make systemic change to address this form of injustice.”

According to Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, the womb-to-prison pipeline is described as children of color who are more likely to eventually end up behind bars due to social injustices and issues of inequality. The pipeline is typically described as school-to-prison, but Rojas said this can start as early as in the womb if mothers are at a disadvantage to provide their children much-needed resources.

(Courtesy of Mama Sana Vibrant Woman)

In addition to their services, the group also challenges the womb-to-prison pipeline through political advocacy. In 2012, for instance, the collective successfully advocated for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to make a “rules change” to add licensed midwives as healthcare providers under Texas Medicaid. They were disheartened, however, when most local providers chose not to implement the change, which would’ve given mothers of color an alternative option for their prenatal and labor/delivery care.  

On Thursday, Rojas, along with founders Coleman and Jeanette Monsalve, led a panel where they discussed the power of community to create change at What’s the Fix, a health care conference presented by HealthSparq and the Design Institute for Health at Dell Medical School.

“[Paula] went from being insured and treated in a nice way and having access to a clinic that was quick and inviting to, ‘Oh, you’re going to the Medicaid clinic now,’” Coleman said during the panel. “It was like night and day. The walls were gray and the people weren’t kind.”

At Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, women can either walk in or make an appointment at a wellness clinic offered one Saturday every month. The ambiance is inviting and welcoming, reminiscent of a spa, with soft music playing in the background and complimentary tea and snacks.

Women can meet with Rojas, a licensed midwife, or another midwife, who also serves as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner. Additionally, they can visit with an acupuncturist, homeopathy specialist or prenatal massage therapist.


(Courtesy of Mama Sana Vibrant Woman)

“These are things we know really help people maintain their health during pregnancy but are not accessible to low-income people,” Rojas said.

Women can even join a prenatal or postpartum group, which offers interactive workshops and complimentary childcare. A complete meal is served before the meetings start and each session finishes off with an exercise, typically yoga. The workout aims to help mothers manage stress while keeping their bodies healthy and ready for birth.

Complete sessions are offered in two-hour blocks, with transportation provided to those in need.  

Mothers can also take part in childbirth preparation training.

“This normally would cost hundreds of dollars for someone to get ready for birth pain. Mothers learn management techniques, position, breathing, knowing what to expect in hospital and what to prepare yourself for; know your rights and that of your partner’s if you have one,” Rojas said.

(Courtesy of Mama Sana Vibrant Woman)

Mothers can register for the groups in 16-week cycles, with classes occurring every other week. Each one is offered in Pflugerville, a suburb northeast of Austin, as well as in southeast and central east Austin, and they are available in both Spanish and English.

“I think it’s too soon to tell if we’re going to fully move the needle on what it will take as far as infant or mother mortality rates, but we’ve already seen improvement in initiation and continuation of breastfeeding and healthy birth weights,” Rojas said.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment is giving mothers a feeling of safety and support, allowing them to let their guard down.

“When you’re pregnant, you’re supposed to let others care for you. When you have to be on the defensive, it really creates a situation that exacerbates chronic stress,” she said.

Read: How Racism And Xenophobia Harm Latinas’ Reproductive Health

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