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Pro-Life? Pro-Choice? It's Time to Be Pro-Access!

Posted: 06/09/11 01:20 PM ET

The word 'abortion' is always one that stirs debate. But it shouldn't. Here's why.

I was recently asked if I was pro-life, or if I was pro-choice. You know what I answered, "I'm pro-access." I'm pro-access because terms like 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice' are antiquated and assume that all women have a choice to begin with, when in reality, many women have limited access to reproductive health care because so many restrictions are set in place. Women should be supported to actually have a choice to begin with, and the fact that we're in the 21st century, still having this debate, is something that I find remarkable.

As a 24-year-old proud Latina woman and daughter of immigrants, I am part of the fastest growing demographic in our country. It's why I'm so passionate about the issue of abortion, and why I devote my days to protecting a women's legal right to choose in my work with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health -- the only national Latina health and reproductive justice organization in the United States.

Some people ask me if I've had an abortion, and if that's what led me to this line of work. To that I respond 'no,' but here's what drew me to devote my time to one of our nation's most divisive issues. Since I was 14 years old, I have always recognized my agency in fighting for social justice issues in my community. From being a young student organizer until present day, my life has always been connected to fighting for those who are marginalized and underserved. I am motivated and strengthened by the stories that our activists share with me on a daily basis about the constant struggle it is for them to be able to attain quality and affordable reproductive health care. It is a fight faced every day simply because we are women.

The Public Religion Research Institute is scheduled to release a new poll on this hot button issue at the Brookings Institution on Thursday. The poll is expected to reveal that millennials, people my age, are very supportive of women's decision-making powers and believe that systems should be set in place for women to have increased ability to make these decisions. Millennials trust and respect women and their ability to decide for themselves about all aspects of their reproductive health.

At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), we advocate for the fundamental human rights to reproductive health and justice for Latinas, their families and their communities. We, like millennials, also respect women's decision making abilities and also believe that systems should be set in place in order to realize these decisions. In my work, I've seen that Latinas are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, more than any other ethnic group, and often lack basic access to birth control and comprehensive sex education because of fundamental structural inequities in society.

As the National Field Organizer at NLIRH, I have seen structural inequities in accessing reproductive health care first hand through the experiences of our activists in our Latina Advocacy Networks across the country. Women share with me their experiences as they try to navigate the health care system. They face multiple barriers in accessing quality and affordable reproductive health care because of their immigration status, the lack of cultural competency on behalf of providers, high costs, and lack of transportation just to name a few. Women have had to choose between their contraception and affording other living costs.

Take the story of Jersey Garcia, a working mother, who planned her pregnancy and was shocked to learn that, despite having health insurance through her employer, she couldn't afford to resume her birth control. The IUD had been her reliable form of birth control for years, but she was told she must pay $800 in fees beyond what her health insurance covers. Switching to the birth control pill was also not affordable; the pill would cost her up to $480 per year in insurance co-payments. Unless birth control is included in health reform implementation as part of preventive care, many Latinas will still be without access to birth control even when they have health insurance. Young people understand these complexities and want to be supported with access to sexuality education and health services that will help them have healthy and successful futures.

These challenges should not be the reality of our communities, but unfortunately it is, and the consequences are far reaching: Latinas are the country's youngest and fastest growing population; our reproductive health affects the entire nation across many communities. As the only national Latina reproductive health and justice organization, we own our place in the frontlines of this fight and in breaking down barriers to health care for all women. Like millennials, we support women making the best personal reproductive health care decisions for themselves and their families and to have the tools to be able to make real decisions.