Later this week, I'm traveling to my home state of Texas, inspired in part by a report detailing the harsh realities facing Latinas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley: Nuestra Voz, Nuestra Salud Nuestro Texas: The Fight for Women's Reproductive Health in the Rio Grande Valley.
Written by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the report details the shocking human rights abuses suffered daily by women in the Rio Grande Valley. From being turned away because of inability to pay, to struggles to afford birth control, to unintended pregnancies, to diagnosed but untreated and life-threatening reproductive health conditions, this report consists of 67 pages of shameful reminders that women's bodies are being used as political battlegrounds.
Sadly, the stories told by the 188 courageous women interviewed for the report are all too familiar. I grew up in McAllen, one of the impoverished and underserved Rio Grande Valley towns described in the report. My father was a farmworker, my mother a trained nurse who was prevented by language and other barriers from converting her Mexican credentials to work in the US.
She did, however, become a midwife licensed by the State of Texas to deliver babies. In a small room at the rear of our house, she would spend endless hours behind closed doors with women who could not afford to give birth in hospitals.
Just like the women in the Nuestra Voz report, the mothers who came to our house were mostly immigrants, sometimes undocumented, always uninsured, and always very, very poor.
They gave birth naturally, without pain relief of any kind, because my mother had no legal authority to administer it. Most of the time, there were no complications.
Looking back, what's most astonishing to me about the room at the end of the house was that I never heard a single sound coming from it. One woman, no more than 5 feet tall, spent endless hours in silent labor, my mother in that quiet room for what seemed like forever, my father nervously pacing the floor of our tiny house. Finally, my mother emerged to report that the tiny woman had given birth to a baby weighing over 13 pounds. She left only a day or two later on her own two feet.
Texan Latinas are tough. They can and do handle so much without complaint. But the State of Texas, waving the 'pro-life' flag, is threatening these women's lives and denying them basic human rights by cutting funding to the clinics that once served them. Since 2011, 28 percent of state-funded clinics in the Valley have closed completely, while others have reduced services and raised prices.
These cuts are not a result of lack of resources or other extenuating circumstances. They are motivated by nothing more than the political desire to de-fund abortion and police women's bodies. It is immoral for Texas Republicans to gamble with women's lives and health for their own political gain.
Now, women throughout the Valley are organizing, and mobilizing to demand that legislators give women equal rights to reproductive healthcare. They are standing behind Senator Wendy Davis, who in turns stands for them and their reproductive rights.
As Liria, a woman from Brownsville, said in the report, "We want to grow, give back to this country. As we receive, we also give back to them, to the country in which we live. But for that to happen, we need to be in good health."
The women of Texas are strong and they are tough. And we will not stand for the political gamesmanship that threatens our families and our communities. Stand with the women of Texas, read the report, and exercise your vote.
Arcelia Hurtado is Policy Advisor to Equal Rights Advocates and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She will be speaking to doctors and patients in the Rio Grande Valley, and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 392-6257.
HEALTH CARE NO LONGER A HUMAN RIGHT IN THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY
* Highest population of farmworkers of any area in the U.S. with one-third of its total population employed in the agricultural sector
* More than one third of the Rio Grande Valley lives in poverty
* Highest uninsured population in the nation
* Designated a federal "medically underserved" area: not enough health providers to meet needs
* High rates of preventable STDs, unintended pregnancies, cancers of reproductive system
* 9 of 32 family planning clinics funded by Texas Dept of State Health Services now closed
* Months-long wait for mammograms, Pap tests
* Cost of one month's supply of contraception more than tripled since 2010
* Women with abnormal results from Pap tests or breats exams save years to be able to afford follow-up tests
* Mobile clinics shut down; women may require weeks to save money for gas, arrange childcare, to get to appointments far away