I’m tired of people telling me what to do with my body
I’m a Mexican-American daughter of immigrants, and like many Latinas, I grew up being taught that I have little control of my body. Traditional Mexican culture teaches us that sex, masturbation, abortion and even birth control are sinful. And although my environment taught me that sexual women were whores, I felt sexualized by men in my community at a very early age.
The anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric in the United States then tells us that our bodies are dangerous – we are darkening the American population through our anchor babies and general fecundity. Ironically, the US government perpetually restricts our access to birth control and abortion, so we often have little control over our reproduction. Like so many women of color, I grew up confused by all of these frenetic and contradictory messages. I grew up feeling like my body was literally up for grabs.
Last week, despite a marathon filibuster, the outrage of reproductive rights organizations, and crowds and crowds of pro-choice demonstrators at the state capitol, Texas passed one of its most stringent abortion bills in the United States. The new bill, SB5, will ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors will also be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. These new requirements will cause the closure of 37 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics, so abortion will essentially be banned in the state of Texas.
The message is clear: our government doesn’t care about women’s health. Politicians can say all they want about trying to protect women from the evils of abortion clinics by enforcing these new standards, but most of us aren’t buying it. While the rich will continue to have safe access to abortion as they always have, poor women of color will be the ones who suffer. Women in the Valley and West Texas will have to drive hundreds of miles to get to an abortion clinic. Latinas along the border will be the most affected.
Sadly, these kinds of measures aren’t anything new to women of color. Our bodies have always been policed by our culture and by our government. A new study from the University of Michigan found that in the last century, patients with Spanish surnames in California psychiatric institutions and homes for the developmentally disabled were disproportionately sterilized at rates ranging between 20 and 30%. Another recent report found that the California prison system sterilized as many as 250 women from 1997 to 2010.
The US government has also admitted to the forced sterilization of Black and American Indian women. Between 1973 and 1976, Indian Health Service regions sterilized 3,406 American Indian women without their permission, and between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina sterilized about 7,600 people the state decided were “feeble-minded” or undesirable, many of which were poor black women. And these are only a few examples. If I wrote every instance in which non-white women were treated like they were subhuman, I would get a serious case of carpal tunnel.
It’s incredibly confusing to be a woman in a country that simultaneously tells you not to “breed” and restricts your access to birth control and abortion. Who the hell understands you, America?
This bill will cause a new kind of desperation for “undesirables”, for the women who already live on the fringes. Many even fear women will travel to Mexico for the abortion pill. I’m dumbfounded by this. Because my parents left Mexico to provide us with a better life, the idea of people crossing the border to Mexico for any sort of healthcare is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I grew up believing that this was the best country in the world, and despite all of my gripes, I thought there was no better place to be a woman. I resent that all these new anti-choice bills are making me question my once unwavering faith.
Although SB5 is inhumane to all women, it will disproportionately affect Latinas, the ethnic group with the highest teen pregnancy rates, the most likely to be uninsured, and the hardest hit by the wage gap. I can’t help but fear what’s in store for us next. How can we not take that personally?
In many ways, very little has changed since I was a girl. It’s 2013 and I feel as unsafe and frustrated as ever. Like so many women, I’m tired of old men telling me what my body means and what it can and can’t do. I’m tired of the whole world deciding what’s best for me and I wonder if my country will ever trust me with my own body.