Let me make this promise: Comprehensive Healthcare Access for Young Latinas

*By Mara Minguez, M.D., MSc

MMinguez_blogOne experience in particular has stayed with me.

I vividly recall a 15 year old who in response to her pregnancy diagnosis stated, “It would not only kill my dreams… it hurts me more to kill my parents’ dreams.”  In that moment, she did not yet realize that she had a choice. If she wanted to be a parent at 15, all was not lost, she could still turn her and her parents’ dreams into reality.

Yes, many young parents lack the resources needed to achieve their dreams.  Many young parents do not have access to financial resources and still many more may lack family support especially when faced with an unintended pregnancy. Additionally many schools  do not have adequate resources or supports in place for expecting or parenting students making it harder for young people and their children to succeed once they have decided to become young parents.

Still more troubling is the range of services and counseling available to young Latinas depending on their geographical location. Some states provide unimpeded access to reproductive healthcare, while others seek every opportunity to impose barriers to the full range of reproductive healthcare options. Latinas’ futures are often determined not by their own choices but by their zip code, which means unequal access to reproductive health and abortion services depending on where you are.

Adolescents, Latina women, and all women in this country deserve to be legally protected to decide upon their reproductive futures whether they decide to parent or not. Lack of access to reproductive healthcare services and education including comprehensive sexual health, stands as a barrier for Latinas’ to reach their full potential.

By 2050, the Latino community is speculated to reach a quarter of the total population in the United States. At least half of that soon to be quarter of the U.S. total population will be Latinas. As a Latina immigrant, adolescent physician, and a mother of three girls, I dream of the day that I can promise my daughters and my overwhelmingly Latina patients that they have access to all the healthcare services, from prenatal care to abortion services, they need regardless of their income bracket, zip code, or immigration status. I dream of the day they are entitled to comprehensive counseling options and sexual health education that is inclusive. The day I can assert with full confidence that working hard to be successful will lead them to the economic compensation they deserve whether or not they decide to parent at an early age or not.

Unfortunately I know that is not the case now. I know well we have to fight to change the status quo so that young Latinas like the one whose dreams seemed to end with her pregnancy, can continue on a path to their dreams. We must take a good look at the structural barriers, the roadblocks to success and to living happy healthy lives for so many Latinas and their families. We owe it to the next generations to make this promise.

*This piece was created in partnership with Physicians for Reproductive Health and our partners at National Latina Institute of Reproductive Health (NLIRH) as part of the 7th annual Latina Week of Action (#WOA16). For more on WOA16 click here. 

About the author: Mara Minguez, MD, MSc is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Columbia University Medical Center and the Mailman School of Public Health. She is board-certified in General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Dr. Minguez completed a medical doctorate from the School of Medicine at Tulane University, a pediatric residency at Columbia University Medical Center, and a fellowship in Adolescent Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She is currently a full-time clinical preceptor at a school-based health center located in an inner-city high school, in Bronx, New York where she provides clinical care to adolescents, supervises nurse practitioners, and teaches medical students, residents and fellows.