Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Una de las Experiencias Latinas

Choice is different for Latina women. Latina women ask about a "legrado" in hushed tones, using the word that's more delicate and more ambiguous than "aborto." They explain, "I have four children and I'm out of work and my husband just left and I just missed my period and no, no, no, no, no," leaving me to draw my own conclusions, gently suggesting, "And you're interested in information about abortion?"

Latina women not only remember the time before Roe v. Wade when abortion was illegal, but they remember their home countries where abortion is still illegal. They remember people labeling them, as people, "illegals," so why wouldn't an abortion be illegal, too? When I quote prices and describe the procedure, I slip in the fact that abortion is legal and safe. Sometimes, I forget, and then the woman is about to go and meet her doctor, and she asks quietly, "Is this illegal?"

The clinic isn't the first exposure to abortion for many Latina women. Her first exposure was a sister suffering complications from an at-home abortion years ago in Mexico. Or her first exposure was the series of pills she bought from an acquaintance, pills that promised to "bring on her period," and pills that she bought right here in town because she was too ashamed and scared to do anything else.

A lot of Latina women are good Catholics, and good Catholics don't have abortions, they tell me. And then they go on to tell me the most beautiful, well thought out reasons for choosing this path. They're willing to pour their hearts out to me and to God and to themselves, and they're willing to try to believe that they are still good Catholics who made a difficult decision for the good of their families and their lives.

Latina women are the ones more likely to go through the abortion experience alone, going to extreme measures to put on a charade of going to a clinic for a "surgery on a cyst." And they're more likely to stare blankly on the pile of forms we hand them, until an interpreter comes over and quietly asks if they need help. A lot of times, it's because they stopped their schooling after elementary grades and they can't read this complicated translation of a medical history.

And Latina women are the ones who will never add her abortion story to the litany of their experiences in America. They are strong and proud and wonderful, and this is a tiny part of their stories.


  1. Great post. I myself am half Salvadorian, grew up for the most part in El Salvador (where abortion is illegal in ALL cases) and heard a lot of back alley stories firsthand. Hate to say this but back in that time I was young and a staunch catholic in the "pro life" mentality. I remember we had this teacher who once worked as a nurse who would tell us about girls dying of back-alley abortions (her terms were "ella fue a las brujas del campo" - meaning "she went to the witches of the countryside"), at the end of each putting in a deathbed regret of having the abortion (amazingly nothing on themselves dying), meant to scare us youngsters out of ever contemplating the idea. But those stories gave me doubts - why should it be happening if there's a safe alternative? It didn't make sense to me.
    Know what else? There's a large wealthy population in El Salvador, and an even larger poor population, with a very small middle class. Women with means just hop a plane to the U.S (Houston is a popular destination for it) to get the procedure or bribe a private doctor. Most other women can only resort to the back alleys.
    I reversed my anti choice views relatively early in my mid teens, as well as rejected my catholic upbringing and faith. Never been better!

  2. Steph, you're like our best follower :) Always with an awesome comment. Thanks, and spread the word!

  3. Steph - I think I heard that term before, "brujas del campo"! (Or maybe you yourself mentioned it in a previous comment?) It's crazy that those stories from your teacher were supposed to teach you "women shouldn't have abortions," rather than "women shouldn't die from abortions."

  4. ooh, I want to do a Fun Fact Hour!

    As Steph noted, El Salvador is one of two countries in Latin America (along with Nicaragua) that do not even allow abortions to save a woman's life -- leading to an increase in maternal mortality, both from clandestine abortions and from doctors monitoring ectopic pregnancies and waiting for them to burst before treating the aftermath.

    Then again, the "exceptions" in all the other countries (rape, incest, or grave irreparable health consequences) are so difficult to document in a timely manner, and the hospitals so hard to persuade even with documentation, that you may as well just say all abortion is illegal there too.

    (The two spots of relief are Cuba and, since 2007, the district of Mexico City: available on request up to 12 weeks.)

  5. What a wonderfully worded post. Although I've never had an abortion, I am so grateful that the choice is there for women in the US. I wish it was available for all women, everywhere.

  6. Aw, thanks anti-anti (blushing over here). I'm pretty happy to comment here since this is really the only place I can vent on the issue this frankly, due to my surroundings most of the time I tend to have to keep my thoughts pent up.

    placenta sandwich - I think I might have said it here before on another post. Or did you see "The Coat Hanger Project" documentary? (I was in it and told that story).

  7. I did see The Coat Hanger Project! That was you? Aw, so awesome :)

    So can I ask, did your family/etc know about you being in the documentary, and if so how were they about it?

  8. Pretty much only my mom and members of my university's pro choice organization know I was in it. My mom was fine with it but we didn't really discuss it too much, she's pretty uncomfortable about the subject but encouraged me to speak my mind. She hasn't seen the film though she said she'd like to if given the chance.

  9. Thank you so much, everyone. I really appreciate your receptivity to this post and sharing your experiences. <3

  10. My cousin is a psychologist who works mostly with Latina women. I can tell you that much of this is true from what she tells me about her work. Abortion should be a legal option for all women. Thank you for this post!

  11. I <3 this post. I live in an area where over 50% of the young women are Latina...I wish I could print this post out + place it in the clinic for our clients!


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