Reclaiming Spaces: Latinas and Abortion in the U.S.

By Myra Durán, Policy Coordinator

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the historical Roe v Wade ruling in 1973. With this monumental legislative win come several reflections, blogposts, events and panel discussions about how this case has impacted women’s access to abortion care here in the U.S.  There will be lively conversations about the constant attacks to abortion from national and state policymakers, tributes to those pioneers who were instrumental in getting Roe passed, and there may even be talks on what role the younger generation has played in ensuring the right to abortion remains intact. As one of those young women, I have been on many panels, radio shows and events reaffirming the existence of a generation of activists who are not only involved but integrate these issues into their everyday life. We don’t just limit our activism to abortion and birth control – we constantly have to push back on “apathetic” rhetoric that is used to describe us and our political work.

A lot of millennials have to balance our appreciation for the prior work done in the prochoice movement, while simultaneously stand strong in our position within the movement—a task that has proven to be taxing. But with reverence to the work laid down to get us to Roe’s passage, I have noticed time after time a trend within some millennials’ use of language to point out what our mothers and grandmothers have done to fight for Roe.

As a daughter of immigrants, I find this narrative minimizes my experiences as a first generation Latina, whose mother’s and grandmothers’ lives are absent from the ongoing Roe conversations. Homogenizing our experiences into this U.S.-centric framework negates the experiences of immigrant communities. I appreciate all the work that got us to this year’s 40th anniversary, but  I also yearn that  the voices of the mujeres I’m surrounded with: my mom, my sisters, my abuelitas, my tias, my ninas and my cousins were also incorporated. My family’s work, activism, and experiences shouldn’t be overlooked just because they may have not understood nor were present in the U.S. during the long battles before and after Roe.

Above: Maternal abuelita w/ dog in México
Below: Mom rocking her perm proudly

For some children of immigrants living in the U.S., it may be our first time navigating what it means for us today to learn about a case upholding the right to abortion services. Activists like myself, take newfound knowledge and share it with the people in our lives so that it becomes relevant to their own existence. The repetitive messages of what Roe represents, what it means, the history, the fight and so forth does not resonate with my family history, let alone the experiences of immigrant womyn nationwide. It’s also worth noting that when a war was being waged to win the right to private, legal and safe abortion, many women of color, including immigrant Latinas, were also fighting to keep their right to pregnancy. We cannot deny the U.S. history of forced sterilization many women of color experienced and other constant attempts to control our fertility.

When we talk about reproductive rights, we should be careful not to assume all young activists have roots beginning in the U.S. nor assume that we’re all daughters of Roe pioneers. As a Reproductive Justice advocate and daughter of immigrants, my activism takes shape when I create intimate spaces for sharing authentic dialogue with my mother. My reality consisted of having to stomach enough courage to initiate the conversations she wasn’t used to. My mother knew about my work around women’s rights and “los derechos humanos.”  But she never knew I strived for people’s access to reproductive services, which included escorting women to access these services and legislative work that directly impacted women’s access to abortion care. These weren’t conversation topics held in my home. Not because she never wanted to learn what I was doing, but because I fell into the general misguided opinions of what my old school, Catholic mother would think, I assumed she wouldn’t understand the nuances involved in this type of work. One day, she came to me for advice. It took 4 years of being a self-identified feminist and strong reproductive justice activist to finally talk about abortion and to my surprise — it was she who initiated it after finding out someone close to her was pregnant and did not want to continue with the pregnancy. The conversation dragged across a couple of days, to the point where my mother was the one lecturing me on reproductive justice. She’s the one who connected economic justice with accessing abortion, that some women may be fleeing a violent relationship and cannot continue with the pregnancy. She was the one who said “some women just don’t want to have children.” All this time I assumed she wouldn’t understand my work. But it was I who didn’t provide that space for her to include her testimonies.

These are the assumptions I believe some of us reproductive justice activists are faulted with. Faults we should be wary of when making inroads for people like our immigrant mothers and families who may not know what rights Roe established, especially as first generation Latinas. When sharing what this means to their lives as mujeres, as a familia and as a comunidad, we create historical dialogues and spaces that can be transformational. At CLRJ, we believe our work is not shaped by the messaging we develop in the office, but by the in-person conversations we have with the older women in our lives, with our mothers, with our fathers, with our tias, with our abuelitas—this is the language we carry over to our work because it is our reality. The truth is that Latinas may have a variety of feelings, experiences and attitudes about keeping or terminating a pregnancy, but Latinas overwhelmingly support other women’s self-determination and right to decide for themselves. Something you will not find in the history books.

As we celebrate 40 years of Roe, let us not discount those of us who may not be relying on maternal legacies, homogenized family experiences, or prochoice history to lift up our voices.