This post is part of RH Reality Check’s “What Does Choice Mean to You?” series commemorating the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
I was a junior in high school the first time I understood the political meaning of the term pro-choice. My very progressive, feminist “herstory” teacher organized a school trip to attend the 1992 abortion rights march in Washington DC. Sadly I was unable to go, but I eagerly made feminist signs, created slogans, and supported my friends who did attend. I soaked in everything about the abortion rights movement. It was a turning point in my political consciousness.
I fervently identified as pro-choice. However, how I define abortion rights is not as simple as being pro-choice. My parents came to the U.S from El Salvador in the early 70s. They have always been political. However, abortion for my parents is not a political issue; it is a health care service. My father, who has been a physician in the Bronx for over 30 years, always reminds me, that when he was a medical student in El Salvador, he saw women in the emergency room with unfinished or botched abortions. Many of them died trying to do the best for their families.
The term “choice” was not used to describe the decision that led women to the emergency room in El Salvador 37 years ago. And in 2010 as we in the United States commemorate the 37th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade “choice” does not encompass the reproductive health decisions that low-income Latinas are making every day. The term pro-choice does not describe the complexity of our lives that leads to the need to consider abortion. These are the stories and realities that I keep at the forefront of my activism. I am privileged to lead an organization who places at the center the most marginalized women in our communities. We prioritize abortion rights so that we can bring dignity to women who seek abortions and justice to the women who died because of their botched abortions.
At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, we are faced with talking about abortion rights within the context of women’s real lives. For example, when a Latina is told by her school teacher that she’s better off getting pregnant than trying to go to college, we’ve undermined her “choice” for her future. If the closest family planning clinic is located miles away, if public transportation is lacking or dangerous, if anti-immigrant rhetoric instills fear both for immigrants and native-born members of a household, if politicians ban abortion funding for the poorest among us, the concept of “choice” is more of a privilege than a rallying cry. How these issues intersect make it complicated and difficult for us to have just one unified way of addressing abortion rights. However, I think we can all agree that “choice” does not move our agenda forward.
Looking ahead, it is time to collectively expand our messaging and embrace a holistic vision for reproductive freedom. Building bridges and intersecting reproductive health care with other progressive movements such as the education reform movement or supporting communities to improve the public transportation systems are steps in de-polarizing abortion. Cross-movement work, however, also means that we need to actually say the word abortion and not use euphemisms like “pro-choice”. There are many divergent opinions on abortion. However, I am confident that by embracing a social justice paradigm to pursue abortion rights we will continue to build an energetic and unified movement. I have not lost hope that one day abortion care will be as my father views it, simply a health care service.