Feb 6, 2024 - World

Abortion rights movement needs more Latina voices, advocates say

Two different photos are next to each other.  On the left is Ashley Brandt and on the right is Samantha Casiano. Both are standing at a podium with a microphone in front of them.

Left: Ashley Brandt. Right: Samantha Casiano. Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images, Courtesy of the Center for Reproductive Rights

Abortion advocates say Latinas and other women of color are disproportionately affected by bans and restrictions, but when it comes to lawsuits and news coverage, their stories are less likely to get attention.

Why it matters: The reality underscores the limited resources that Hispanic women have in accessing abortion care, especially since the fall of Roe v. Wade, which has prompted nearly half of all U.S. states to enact more restrictions or bans.

  • A recent analysis found that since Texas enacted severe abortion restrictions in 2021, the fertility rate for Hispanic women and teens soared, while it dropped for their white counterparts — suggesting the restrictions have had an outsized impact on Latinas.

Details: The Center for Reproductive Rights in March 2023 filed a lawsuit alleging the Texas abortion ban's exceptions for emergency situations were vague and led to people being denied critical health care.

  • Some plaintiffs, including some Hispanic women, have spoken in news conferences and testified in court, but at times the white women have gotten more media attention.
  • An analysis by Muck Rack Trends at Axios' request showed one Hispanic plaintiff netted about 44% fewer news stories than a white plaintiff in the same suit, even though they testified in court on the same day.
  • Roughly 20% of the plaintiffs are Latinas, though Hispanics make up 40% of the Texas population.

What they're saying: Lupe M. Rodríguez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, says the same barriers Hispanic women face when seeking abortions — less access to health care; low-wage jobs with little or no paid time off; in some cases, immigration status — hinder them from participating in lawsuits.

  • Many of the organizations and people driving the lawsuits are also "very focused on having the right folks in front of the camera," she says.
  • "I think it's important for public opinion" for the people who sue against abortion restrictions be relatable to them, Rodríguez tells Axios Latino.

Molly Duane, the lead Center for Reproductive Rights attorney in the Texas lawsuit, is acutely aware that some of the populations most affected by restrictions are least represented in lawsuits — and she says the contrast is stark between the health care system's treatment of some of her Latina clients and its treatment of her white clients.

  • "It's painful to me that some of those stories aren't getting told as much," Duane says.
  • Duane says the initial search for plaintiffs focused on women who had already spoken publicly about their struggles to find abortion care in life-threatening situations, and that her team didn't want to pressure anyone into participating.
  • "We didn't know what was going to happen, what sort of hate or vitriol they would experience," Duane tells Axios Latino.

Zoom in: Two of the Hispanic women in the lawsuit say sharing their stories is important to them so that others won't have to face similar situations.

  • Samantha Casiano, an east Texas mother of four who is also raising her goddaughter, was excited to learn she was pregnant in 2022 but devastated when she found out 20 weeks into her pregnancy that her daughter had anencephaly, a fatal condition in which a baby is born without parts of their brain.
  • Casiano, who couldn't afford to travel out of state for an abortion, was told she'd have to carry the baby. Her daughter, Halo, died four hours after birth.
  • "When I met my daughter, I just knew I had to do whatever I could do to make sure that no other babies had to go through that ever, ever again — or any mothers at that because it was it was hard. Very, very hard."

Ashley Brandt had to leave Texas for an abortion after one of her twins was diagnosed with a deadly condition that threatened the other twin's life.

  • After telling friends and family about her situation, she was surprised to learn how many had faced similar hurdles.
  • "These bans are just going to make it that much more complicated and taboo and harder to access proper medical care. I wanted to get it out there to hopefully at least, if nothing gets changed politically, to help spread awareness."

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