Why My Fight for Latina Health Took Me All the Way to the UN

This article was originally published on RH Reality Check.

Every single day, I talk to Latinas and immigrant women across the Rio Grande Valley, listening to their stories, hearing about their families, and teaching them how to stay healthy. Last month, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I was able to travel to Geneva with our allies from the Center for Reproductive Rights(CRR) and speak before the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of all of the women in my Texas community who are suffering from a lack of reproductive health care. It was my opportunity to tell them everything I have heard and spotlight the urgency of this health-care crisis—not only for the women in the Valley but for millions of other women in the country.

I was honored to tell the stories of my friends, neighbors, and sisters in the struggle. I was also proud to share the joint human rights report the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the CRR recently completed, Nuestra Salud, Nuestra Voz, Nuestro Texas: The Fight for Reproductive Health Care in the Rio Grande Valley.

Quality, affordable reproductive health care is a fundamental human right that is being denied to Latinas and immigrant women across Texas and the country. These conditions are dangerous to the health of Latinas and immigrant women. It’s true that many women in the Valley are in desperate situations. They report living with lumps in their breasts, chronic pain from untreated conditions, the inability to afford the contraception they need, and fear that they have undetected cancer. They’re forced to decide between paying for birth control and keeping food on their tables.

Daniela, for example, has breast pain but cannot access an affordable mammogram ever since the mobile bus that once visited her community stopped coming. After she was sent to a local hospital for a mammogram, she was only able to pay $200 of the $800 bill and is still awaiting the results; the hospital refused to release the results until the bill was paid in full. Daniela was able to get an appointment (after a six-month wait) at another clinic, but when she finally arrived, the clinic no longer had the equipment. She continues to live with breast pain and without a diagnosis—this is a violation of her human rights to health, life, and freedom from ill treatment.

The Latinas in my community are overcoming incredible barriers and facing unimaginable risk to advocate for health care for themselves and their families. Even though women report that border patrol agents are stationed outside reproductive health clinics and ICE officials raid protest marches, these women raise their voices. They brave checkpoints to travel to Austin to demand their lawmakers advance policies that respect their salud, dignidad, y justicia.

During my time in Geneva, speaking to the panels, I was so inspired by the way the committee listened to me. Despite the language barrier, I could see how my words and stories resonated with them. There was an anger in their faces—the good type of anger, the kind that makes you want to stand up and make a difference—and many of them let me know afterwards how upset they were to learn of the violations to our human rights.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Committee presented their concluding observations and expressed clear-cut concerns about the exclusion of millions of undocumented immigrants and their children from health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, as well as restrictions on coverage for lawfully residing immigrants through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

This condemnation by the UN of the exclusion of immigrants from health care comes at an opportune time. Just a few weeks ago, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) introduced groundbreaking legislation, the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act (HR 4240), which would restore health coverage for immigrant women and families who have been unfairly excluded. As I returned from Geneva, I’m more determined than ever to fight for my community, and to ensure that this legislation is passed soon. Latinas can’t wait any longer for health care.

We will continue to demand our human rights until we have the health care we deserve. Until then, Latinas in my community will continue to support one another and advocate for change. We will continue to open our doors, churches, and community centers to hold workshops on reproductive health. We will continue to share our stories with policymakers and demand policies that respect, protect, and fulfill our human rights.

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