Putting Latinas at Risk: Crisis in reproductive health care for Latinas looms as right-wing legislators—mostly Republicans—attack Planned Parenthood
By Alan Abrams , La Prensa Senior Correspondent
Latinas across the United States, many of whom are uninsured, will be disproportionately impacted if the continued barrage of unprecedented extreme right-wing legislation defunding women’s reproductive health care providers such as Planned Parenthood continues unabated.
That was the somber message conveyed by a group of Planned Parenthood clinic directors and allied advocates during a teleconference with Latino media reporters on April 20, 2011.
“These have been the most intensive legislative sessions in history in terms of state and federal impact on Latinas,” said moderator Destiny López, director of Latino Engagement for the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America.
According to López, 23 percent of Planned Parenthood clients or 620,000 people nationally are Latinas. She said the number of Latino males served by Planned Parenthood increased by 191 percent between 2000 and 2009.
Planned Parenthood is the leading provider and advocate in the United States of preventive healthcare with 600 health centers providing cervical and breast cancer screenings as well as tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STD), gynecological exams and low-cost contraception.
“Ninety percent of our work is preventive, and only three percent involves abortion,” said López, countering false claims by opponents of the agency who allege that their prime purpose is to provide abortions.
“Congress has barred the use of federal tax dollars for abortions for thirty years,” explained López.
“Six out of ten patients consider Planned Parenthood as their main source of healthcare,” she told reporters.
Planned Parenthood was relatively unscathed in the final spending deal which passed the US Senate. But it did suffer cuts to family services such as teen pregnancy prevention and community health centers.
Although $155 million in new funding was earmarked under the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PERT) in order to be able to continue to provide STD testing and for prevention of teen pregnancies, the states have only until the end of April to apply for $9 million in grants. At press time, there were strong indications that this may not happen.
Further, Title X of the Public Health Services Act was cut from $317 million to $300 million and instructed users to teach only abstinence in schools and not sex education.
However the problem is much more serious in the individual states where López said, “Changed legislatures have introduced and passed bills that show hostility to women’s health issues and particularly low-income women. The bills this year have more substance and are moving swiftly to defund. Just last week, Indiana ended Medicaid for Planned Parenthood.”
López cited the 2010 Census showing that the Latina population has grown by 43 percent to 50.5 million or 16 percent of the population. In nine states, the size of the Latina population has more than doubled. Yet in all but one, women’s healthcare is being restricted. Especially draconian are new laws in Mississippi, North Carolina, Arizona, Texas, and Florida.
Elizabeth Barajas-Román, director of Policy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said the attacks have two goals: stopping access to essential services and launching campaigns designed to stigmatize and traumatize. As an example, she pointed to the $500 million just cut from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, adding that 60 percent of the women they serve have one or more children.
Barajas-Román accused the agency’s political opponents of using Medicaid as a bargaining chip. “Low income women and children pay the heaviest penalty. Whenever they cut funding, women are forced to pay for these services out of their own money.
“Many of these legislative bills are stealth attacks linked to anti-immigrant sentiment. You can tell that from their use of pejoratives such as anchor babies.”
“And a lot of it is just another form of sexism. Latinos supported healthcare reform. They need safe and affordable medical services,” said Barajas-Román.
Lillian Tamayo is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast, an area with a high Latino population. “We are the primary healthcare provider for Latina families.” She said, adding “Out of 18 million residents, more than 20 percent are of Latina descent. And the numbers are even higher in South Florida such as Broward County and in urban areas. There are 3.8 million uninsured men, women and young people in Florida. That’s one of the highest ratios in the nation.
“Latinas have higher pregnancy and birth rates and a higher incidence of STD and cervical cancer. But Florida is dismantling women’s rights with attacks on women’s health. Eighteen bills were introduced in the current legislative session affecting low income women and Latinas on issues that affect privacy rights and even cancer screenings. Some are among the most extreme in the country concerning pregnancy resulting from rape and incest. A provider service network can deny Medicaid simply on moral or religious grounds.
“They are restricting access to basic family planning services and trying to dismantle the public health system. Latinas rely on Planned Parenthood,” said Tamayo.
Patricio Gonzáles is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County, the seventh-largest county in Texas located on the Texas-Mexican border. He said that of the 23,000 women served by his agency, 95 percent are Latina. According to Gonzáles, the Texas legislature “has cut 66 to 76 percent of family planning program. For many Latinas, we’re their only doctor. Now this means that many of them will have no access to exams or birth control.”
Guadalupe Rodríguez is director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood in Mir Monte, California, and her agency serves 23 counties. “Latinas are the majority of the users of our services in California, where 47 percent of our patients are Latino. California is the largest state with Latino immigrant and non-immigrant population, comprising 37 percent of the total state population,” said Rodríguez.
“Latinas are most likely to be uninsured and require healthcare access because 39.3 of the 2.1 million uninsured in California are Latinas. The population is heavily dependent upon Planned Parenthood for primary services, using Medicaid for primary and prenatal care.
“Nearly all Latinas would be affected by these funding cuts because most are not able to afford high cost health insurance premiums. They feel comfortable and safe with our services. Latina women and their families in California depend upon Planned Parenthood. If we could not provide these needed services, it would create devastating gaps in coverage for the community,” said Rodríguez.