MMinguez_blogBy Mara Minguez, MD, MSc

One experience in particular has stayed with me.

I vividly recall a 15 year old who in response to her pregnancy diagnosis stated, “It would not only kill my dreams… it hurts me more to kill my parents’ dreams.” In that moment, she did not yet realize that she had a choice. If she wanted to be a parent at 15, all was not lost, she could still turn her and her parents’ dreams into reality.

Yes, many young parents lack the resources needed to achieve their dreams. Many young parents do not have access to financial resources and still many more may lack family support especially when faced with an unintended pregnancy. Additionally many schools do not have adequate resources or supports in place for expecting or parenting students making it harder for young people and their children to succeed once they have decided to become young parents.

Still more troubling is the range of services and counseling available to young Latinas depending on their geographical location. Some states provide unimpeded access to reproductive healthcare, while others seek every opportunity to impose barriers to the full range of reproductive healthcare options. Latinas’ futures are often determined not by their own choices but by their zip code, which means unequal access to reproductive health and abortion services depending on where you are.

Adolescents, Latina women, and all women in this country deserve to be legally protected to decide upon their reproductive futures whether they decide to parent or not. Lack of access to reproductive healthcare services and education including comprehensive sexual health, stands as a barrier for Latinas’ to reach their full potential.

By 2050, the Latino community is speculated to reach a quarter of the total population in the United States. At least half of that soon to be quarter of the U.S. total population will be Latinas. As a Latina immigrant, adolescent physician, and a mother of three girls, I dream of the day that I can promise my daughters and my overwhelmingly Latina patients that they have access to all the healthcare services, from prenatal care to abortion services, they need regardless of their income bracket, zip code, or immigration status. I dream of the day they are entitled to comprehensive counseling options and sexual health education that is inclusive. The day I can assert with full confidence that working hard to be successful will lead them to the economic compensation they deserve whether or not they decide to parent at an early age or not.

Unfortunately I know that is not the case now. I know well we have to fight to change the status quo so that young Latinas like the one whose dreams seemed to end with her pregnancy, can continue on a path to their dreams. We must take a good look at the structural barriers, the roadblocks to success and to living happy healthy lives for so many Latinas and their families. We owe it to the next generations to make this promise.

Mara Minguez, MD, MSc is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Columbia University Medical Center and the Mailman School of Public Health. She is board-certified in General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Dr. Minguez completed a medical doctorate from the School of Medicine at Tulane University, a pediatric residency at Columbia University Medical Center, and a fellowship in Adolescent Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She is currently a full-time clinical preceptor at a school-based health center located in an inner-city high school, in Bronx, New York where she provides clinical care to adolescents, supervises nurse practitioners, and teaches medical students, residents and fellows.

This post was originally published by California Latinas for Reproductive Justice as a part of the 7th Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice. The original post can be read here. For more on the Week of Action, visit the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health here. 

By Orquidia Torres, MDOrquidia Torres

As a Black Latina woman, I understand the difficulties that women of color, especially Latinas, have accessing safe and appropriate reproductive health care. I especially understand this as a provider of reproductive health care to adolescents. The first time contraception was discussed with me by a medical provider was after I had already given birth. While I was overjoyed with the addition to my family and made accommodations accordingly, not every woman has the resources and family support if she were to face an unintended pregnancy.

Although pregnancy rates have declined, Latina adolescents are twice as likely to give birth compared to white non-Latina adolescents.

In addition, Latina adolescents are 1.5 times more likely to have a repeat birth before the age of 20. Part of the reason behind this is that Latina adolescents have lower rates of contraceptive use due to cost, lack of insurance, and lack of access to family planning services. These health disparities subsequently affect Latina maternal and child health. The Affordable Care Act has helped decrease some limitations of health insurance, such as copays, but obtaining contraceptive access is not the only issue.

We, as a society, need to empower and support Latina women so that they can make safe reproductive health decisions for themselves.

For the Latina who is stuck in an abusive relationship and made to feel worthless, how can they feel empowered? For the Latina with limited English, how are they empowered in a doctor’s visit? For the adolescent who doesn’t have access to confidential care and feels there are limited options, how can they feel empowered?

As a Latina provider who cares for Latina patients, I know firsthand that empowering Latinas through reproductive health care makes a difference.

While speaking to one of my Latina patients, I learned that she was afraid to start contraception because she needed confidential services and didn’t know about her options and privacy protections. After explaining her right to confidential reproductive care and her autonomy in the decision making process, she was empowered to start long acting reversible contraception.

If I can empower my Latina patients with the short time I have with them, think of the good that would come if all health educators, policy makers, and medical providers acknowledged and acted upon the need for reproductive justice for Latinas.

Orquidia Torres is a pediatrician and adolescent medicine fellow in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. She focuses on adolescent sexual and reproductive health including providing long acting reversible contraception. She is a graduate of the Physicians for Reproductive Health Leadership Training Academy and is passionate about advocating for her patients at community and national levels.

This post was originally published by National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health as a part of their 7th Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice. The original post can be read here.