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Each April public health and civil rights advocates work to raise awareness about the health inequities that continue to impact communities of color in the U.S. Among the health conditions that are usually highlighted are diabetes, HIV/AIDS, certain cancers, mental illness, and obesity. While it’s certainly critical to address the high rates of these conditions in our communities, another persistent minority health issue is often overlooked.

Women of color (WOC) consistently face reproductive health injustices that are rarely discussed in the context of a minority health issue. This topic is usually relegated to the WOC realm of women’s health. But this April, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) is shifting the dialogue about minority health and highlighting the lack of access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion as a very real health crisis for many of our herman@s.

In 1973, the Supreme Court passed the landmark Roe. v. Wade decision, granting women the right to safe and legal abortion. While this was a major victory for the women’s rights movement, the fight for abortion rights did not stop then. In fact, over the years, the right to abortion has been consistently attacked, restricted, and limited at both the state and federal level.

Among the most harmful of the restrictions enacted was the implementation of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services. Rep. Henry Hyde, author of the Hyde Amendment, said of his intentions for the rider: “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”  This rider has been renewed each year for over three decades, and currently, federal funds can only be used in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The Hyde Amendment was crafted as a deliberate attack on low-income women’s reproductive freedom. Considering that women of color are more likely to be low-income – 24 percent of Latin@s, 27 percent of black women, and 18 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live below the poverty level – the Hyde Amendment is essentially an attack on women of color’s reproductive rights, by denying them the ability to access affordable abortion. The denial of affordable healthcare that covers abortion is yet another issue on the long list of ways and means used to undermine the bodily autonomy and reproduction of WOC in the U.S.

As a result of the Hyde Amendment, abortion has remained out of reach for many low-income or uninsured women despite it being legalized in 1973. For many of our Latina herman@s, access to affordable abortion has never been an option because they are low-income, uninsured, or don’t have private insurance that covers abortion. The reality is, one in three Latin@s is uninsured, which is higher than other race/ethnic group in the country. Of those that are insured, many rely on federally funded programs for coverage, which don’t cover abortion. Without the ability to afford it, the right to abortion is meaningless.

In fact, the first woman who died as a direct result of the Hyde Amendment was a Latina. Rosie Jiménez was a Latina college student and single mother who had Medicaid coverage. Since the Hyde Amendment had recently eliminated federal Medicaid funding for abortion, Rosie resorted to unsafe abortion because she didn’t have the means to pay for the service out of pocket. She died one week after her abortion in October 1977 due to complications from an unsafe procedure. Harrowing as it is, Rosie’s story is not unique. Each year tens of thousands of people are denied access to affordable abortion because of the Hyde Amendment. Although not every person’s story ends tragically, many people’s lives are greatly impacted by the financial burden of paying for an abortion or having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

For Latin@ immigrants, access to affordable abortion can be even more difficult due to many factors including, high rates of uninsurance, cultural and linguistic barriers, lack of information about abortion in the U.S., immigration status, and poverty.

It’s undeniable: the Hyde Amendment hurts women. Moreover, the Hyde Amendment hurts WOC, who are disproportionately low-income, making this not only a women’s health issue, but a minority health issue as well. This National Minority Health Month let’s raise awareness of all health inequities, including the ability to access to safe and affordable abortion.

By Jessica González-Rojas, executive director for National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH)

10155950_10152317414718416_6100789107688453464_nToday I’m going without food to demand fair immigration reform!

This week Destiny Lopez, board chair for NLIRH, and I are fasting in solidarity with our herman@s  from Women’s Fast for Families – a national project calling for fair immigration reform and an immediate end to deportations. By fasting with our allies across the country, we are trying to tap into the courage, compassion, and common sensibilities of our elected officials in order to encourage them to address our country’s flawed immigration policies and practices.

Under our current administration, approximately two million people have been deported, which has torn families apart and left countless children without their parents. The time is now for these practices to stop. Our elected officials need to work together to establish a new system that facilitates a pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million aspiring U.S. citizens and recognizes the contributions and concerns of immigrant women.

Despite the struggles faced by immigrant women and families, this week’s fast comes at an optimistic time in which immigration and health policy intersect. Last month Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01) introduced the Health Equity & Access Under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act (HR 4240) to Congress. This bill would remove political interference and restore coverage so immigrants can participate in the healthcare programs their tax dollars support. Since its introduction, the HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act has been a top priority for NLIRH and our allies – many of whom are joining us in this week’s fast.

It’s my hope that our collective decision to fast will help highlight the urgent need for fair and compassionate immigration reform that recognizes the importance of health for immigrant women and families.

¡La lucha sigue!

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Each March the U.S. celebrates women’s achievements and contributions to society during Women’s History Month. Though March has come and gone, it’s better late than never to acknowledge women and our innumerable contributions. In honor of this Women’s History Month, we picked a fierce poderos@ to profile, based on her valuable contributions to social justice and society in general.

This year our Women’s HERstory Month poderosa is Sylvia Rivera, who was a trans woman activist and queer youth advocate whose activism spanned over the course of four decades. She is sometimes referred to as the “mother of all gay people” – a title bestowed upon her during the Millennium March because of her important contributions to the LGBTQ liberation movement.

Sylvia Rae Rivera was born on July 2, 1951 in New York City to Puerto Rican and Venezuelan parents. She was orphaned as a toddler and raised by her grandmother for part of her childhood. However, her grandmother strongly disapproved of her defiance of traditional gender roles, including her affinity for wearing make up. As a result, Rivera began living on the street with a queer and gender non-conforming community at age 11 – an experience that would later influence her advocacy efforts for queer youth.

Rivera became politically active during the late 1960’s – a time when the nation was exploding with change from various social justice movements. She was involved in Puerto Rican and African American youth activism through the Young Lords and Black Panthers. But she really came into her own as an activist around the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which was a series of riots that sparked the modern wave of LGBTQ activism. While she was heavily involved in the LGBTQ movement, she noted its exclusion of transgender people at times. As a result, she focused her advocacy efforts on people who were often left behind.

Later in life she gave speeches about the Stonewall Riots and the importance of unity within the LGBTQ movement. While she struggled with personal demons, including substance abuse and a failed suicide attempt, she remained a vocal activist for equality until her death in February 2002.

More than a decade after her death, Rivera’s legacy and contributions to LGBTQ liberation remain strong. She was a founding member of Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance, and helped found Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. The Metropolitan Community Church of New York, in which she was actively involved, named its queer youth shelter “Sylvia’s Place” in her honor. Additionally, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was established in 2002, to fight against the discrimination of gender non-confirming people. But perhaps fellow activist Riki Wilchins best described Rivera’s integral role in the LGBTQ movement, saying “In many ways, Sylvia was the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement, a term that was not even coined until two decades after Stonewall.”

We invite you contribute to Rivera’s legacy by making a donation to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Earlier this year our hermanas at the Black Women’s Health Imperative (the Imperative) – the only organization devoted solely to advancing the health and wellness of America’s 20 million Black women and girls through advocacy and public policy, health education, research, and leadership development – welcomed Linda Goler Blount, MPH as the organization’s new President & CEO. We’re excited that Blount has joined the Imperative, and bid farewell to the organization’s longtime president, Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, who will be sincerely missed.

Blount is a seasoned professional, bringing with her over two decades of experience in strategy, policy, and health. She has worked at both non-profit and for-profit organizations, helping them build their brands and boost results. Prior to joining the Imperative, she held positions at United Way of Greater Atlanta, WFG Equity, American Cancer Society, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

With her leadership skills and passion for health equity, Blount hopes to make a difference the lives of the many people the Imperative serves.  She said that she hopes that her work with the Imperative will “empower women, change behavior and conversations, and influence policy makers.” While speaking to leaders from intersecting social justice movements, she extended an invitation for cross-movement building, saying “we have to do this together…the issues are too big. We can’t do it all alone. We have strengths and resources to share.”

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health familia is thrilled to welcome Blount as the BWHI’s new fierce and fearless leader. We look forward to collaborating on the many important issues that impact women of color in the fight for health equity and reproductive justice.

nwghaad-webbadge-125xEach year on March 10th people across the country come together to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and its impact on women and girls on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD). For too long, HIV/AIDS was classified as a disease that only affected gay men – a dangerous and inaccurate myth that left many women out of the conversation. However, in the 33 years since the epidemic started we have seen that  HIV can affect anyone, regardless of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or gender. NWGHAAD was established to bring awareness to a specific population – women and girls – that is affected by HIV/AIDS, but is too often forgotten.

HIV/AIDS is a serious public health issue for women and girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Of those people, one in four (25%) is a woman 13 or older. Furthermore, an estimated 27,000 women have HIV but don’t know their status. Because of the misinformation surrounding the disease, many heterosexual women may not be aware of their own risk factors.

While HIV/AIDS has a serious impact on all mujeres y niñas, Latin@s are disproportionately impacted by the disease. In 2010 Latin@s represented eight percent of new HIV infections, which was more than four times the rate of new HIV infections for non-Hispanic white women. Additionally, the areas of the U.S. where HIV/AIDS is most prevalent – including California, Florida, Texas, and New York – are also the areas with the highest Latino populations and fastest growing Latino populations.

Why are our herman@s at such high risk for contracting HIV? According to the CDC, there are several complex factors that increase Latin@s’ risk of catching the virus, including:

  • Socioeconomic factors: Factors such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to affordable and quality healthcare are major contributors.
  • Stigma: The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, including how it was contracted, may prevent Latin@s from seeking prevention services, testing, and treatment.
  • Cultural factors: Latinos in the U.S. are diverse and trace their roots to many countries. Studies show that country-specific cultural factors may impact behavioral risk factors, including how HIV is contracted. Additionally, traditional gender roles and cultural norms, which perpetuate harmful mandates about Latinas’ sexuality, may increase prevention challenges.
  • High rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Latin@s have higher rates of STIs than non-Hispanic white women. Pre-existing STIs can increase an individual’s risk for HIV infection once exposed to the virus.
  • Immigration status: Immigrant women and families may be hesitant to seek preventive, testing, and treatment services due to fear of having to disclose their status and being deported.

Although the statistics paint a somber picture, NWGHAAD provides an ideal opportunity start changing them for the better. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health encourages everyone to use NWGHAAD to take action and take control by getting the facts, getting tested, and starting a conversation about HIV/AIDS and Latin@s.

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