When I was younger, I always welcomed October — the change of seasons, the cooler weather, the whole autumn experience. Now, October reminds me of the struggles I overcame, and it makes me think about a young Tejana who faced similar struggles 43 years ago — with tragic consequences.
Rosie Jimenez was born and raised about an hour away from my hometown, in the region of southern Texas known as the Rio Grande Valley. She came from a family similar to mine, with Mexican roots and humble beginnings. But I only heard about her story a few years ago.
Rosie became a mom in her early 20s, but she was determined to go to college. When she got pregnant again, she had to face a difficult reality. Rosie knew that, as a single mother, she could not afford to support her young daughter, go to college, and continue with the pregnancy, so she decided to have an abortion.
But what Rosie found out is that choice is not access. She was denied care because her Medicaid insurance did not cover abortion services, and she didn’t have enough money to pay out of pocket. Forced to look elsewhere, she turned to a midwife who performed an unsafe abortion in unsanitary conditions that led to Rosie’s hospitalization.
On October 3, 1977, Rosie Jimenez became the first person to die as a result of the Hyde Amendment, which denies abortion coverage under Medicaid.
Just three years after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal throughout all 50 states, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976, essentially making abortion care inaccessible and reproductive rights meaningless for millions in this country who rely on Medicaid or other publicly funded insurance by singling out abortion care and excluding it from coverage.
While many people worry that their abortion rights could be at risk after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for many in our communities, especially people of color, abortion access has been out of reach for decades due to the Hyde Amendment.
One in five women of reproductive age in the U.S. is enrolled in Medicaid. Due to structural inequities, women of color are disproportionately impacted by Hyde, since 31 percent of Black women of reproductive age, 27 percent of Latinx women of reproductive age, and 19 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women have Medicaid coverage.
It’s worth noting that the Hyde Amendment is not a law, but a rider — an addition to a law — which means it has needed to be renewed by Congress every year in order to remain in effect. And it has been — year after year, for over forty years. The Hyde Amendment has served as a financial barrier, a wall that cuts off access to reproductive care for millions, while having a ripple effect on other programs.
Although 16 states have moved to use state funds to cover abortion care for people enrolled in Medicaid, the majority of people live in states so hostile to reproductive freedoms that even private health insurance plans bought through the Affordable Care Act won’t cover any abortion services.
My native state of Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Due to the failure of our elected officials to center the health and wellbeing of their residents, we have less health coverage and fewer resources to take care of ourselves and our families.
Even during the pandemic, our governor has been playing politics with people’s lives, forcing abortion clinics to shut down. People have had their appointments canceled, then rescheduled, then canceled again, as anti-abortion politicians plot to take away their access to care. I can only imagine what a physical and emotional toll this must take on my fellow Texans who need care.
I was not aware of these toxic patterns, Rosie’s story, or the Hyde Amendment until I was in college. I learned about Rosie from a conversation I had with a coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice after I confided in her about the difficulties that I had faced a few years back when I needed abortion care.
Only then did I find out that Texas has several abortion funds that do amazing work, raising money to help people who don’t have the health coverage or money to pay for an abortion. I wish I had known about abortion funds when I needed help.
It was a couple of months after graduating high school, and I had just turned 18, when I found out I was pregnant. I knew right away that I needed an abortion. I didn’t worry about my decision — I knew that it was the right thing to do for me. The only thing I worried about was how to pay for it.
Like Rosie, I was determined to go to college, and I had a part-time job to help pay for my tuition. That job didn’t pay very much — not enough to cover the cost of an abortion.
Instead, I started calling family clinics and community health centers in the Valley, but all of them told me they didn’t provide abortion services. One woman even told me that you can’t get an abortion in the Rio Grande Valley at all, that you needed to travel over 250 miles north to San Antonio for abortion care.
I looked online and found the only abortion provider in the region, located about an hour away in McAllen. I called and when they told me the prices, I thought, How am I going to pay for this?!?
According to a 2014 study, abortion costs are higher in states with more restrictive policies, as I came to find out firsthand. I had to pay $700 for a medication abortion, despite the fact it was very early in the pregnancy.
I didn’t hesitate. I sold many of the personal belongings my dad had left me. I was especially heartbroken that I had to part with his guitar, which he had given me after teaching me how to play. Even after selling everything I could online, I had raised only $300.
I told one person in my family, a cousin about my age, and I was — and am — so grateful that she was able to lend me the rest of the money. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her help.
I have never regretted my abortion. I know I made the right decision. But I also know that I almost wasn’t able to exercise my right to make that decision because of policies aimed at stripping people of color of our reproductive agency.
Whether an individual is looking for the best method of contraception, is seeking abortion care, or wants to carry a pregnancy to term, their choice should be free from government interference, discrimination, and unnecessary obstacles, including economic barriers like the Hyde Amendment.
It’s time we recognize that the right to choose is completely meaningless without access to safe, affordable abortion care. There is no choice without access! So we must stop talking about choice and start demanding access. We must call on our lawmakers to support proactive legislation, such as the EACH Woman Act (Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance), which would reverse the Hyde Amendment.
Reproductive justice can only be achieved when everyone in our communities has access to all reproductive care, including abortion, without barriers, without restrictions, and without exceptions.
The writer is a Poderosa, an activist with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice’s Texas state network. Zoe Avellan is a pseudonym.