Now is the time for Latinas to speak up

Last month, while the nation’s attention was focused on Washington, D.C., and whether Congress would exclude abortion access from its health care reform package, a mirror image of that debate was taking place in Travis County, Texas. As members of Congress debated how to avoid using tax dollars for abortion care, Travis County officials did the exact opposite: They voted to use county tax dollars for abortion care for women living in poverty.
Why were politicians acting so differently in Washington than in Travis County? Public health officials in Travis County were squarely focused on the everyday realities of local residents, while Congress members inside the beltway were mired in the power plays and politicking of health care reform. Sometimes, if constituents lead, the leaders will follow. And that’s why, at this moment, the voices of Latinas in Texas need to be at the forefront of this debate.
Congress members representing some of the poorest residents in Texas have voted to deny them access to abortion care in recent months. For example, Brownsville is one of the nation’s most Hispanic cities, and has the highest poverty rate among U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents. Yet the majority of Texas congressional representatives, including four Texas Democrats (Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi, Silvestre Reyes of El Paso and Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio) voted to keep uninsured women from accessing abortion coverage in Brownsville and other Texas cities. They voted for the Stupak amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions in most cases.
It’s easy to politicize and manipulate the issue of access to abortion. That’s why congressmen from cities across Texas voted against the needs of women in poverty. History tells us that making abortion too expensive as a means to reduce abortion rates is not only impractical, it is unjust. Forcing women into the shadows of health care has never improved families or communities.
If helping the neediest were the priority, the Texas congressional delegation would focus on the 1.5 million uninsured children in Texas, the huge 60 percent of Texas Latinas who lack health coverage, and the skyrocketing Texas unemployment rate that is pushing a record number of Hispanic families into desperate poverty.
If Latinas’ access to health care is to be treated like a human right, not a politicized bargaining chip, Texans must speak up now. Like the health care leaders in Travis County, Hispanics in Texas are in the right place, at the right time, to help avert a health care disaster for our communities and for our nation. Every one of the politicians who are supporting this abortion-coverage ban has campaigned on a promise to prioritize the needs of Texans. Latinos can help those politicians do the right thing by raising their voices and encouraging these elected officials to vote against anti-abortion amendments.
There are many health care issues remaining for Congress to debate, but equal access to services should not be one of them. The growing political clout of Latinas needs to be heard in Texas, right now. While we did not anticipate this fight, we are ready for the challenge. While we did not anticipate this attack, we will rise to meet it because we believe in the power of our voices and in the dignity of our communities.

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