headshot photo of smiling Afro-Latina woman with shoulder-length straight hair wearing a dark blazer and white blouse

Reproductive Justice Interview with Angelica Vega for Latine Heritage Month 2022

“Women of color already mistrust the medical system, and now post-Roe v Wade there’s a fear of being prosecuted for reproductive care.”

Angelica Vega

In honor of Latine Heritage Month and in light of the recent Dobbs decision striking down Roe v Wade, I chatted with a fellow Latina reproductive justice and disability justice advocate, Angelica Vega to do an interview for this blog.

Angelica is an Afro-Latina with multiple disabilities, who in June spoke at a White House meeting with disabled activists focused on reproductive rights. Her professional career in reproductive justice began as a Federal and Gubernatorial Campaigns Intern at Emily’s List, which helps elect Democratic pro-choice women into public office. While there, she did work supporting numerous campaigns during the 2018 midterm elections. During her senior year of university, Angelica worked for Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) as a Congressional Intern, where she researched and wrote policy memos surrounding issues like health care and voting rights. She recently graduated from The Coelho Center Law Fellowship program, which trains and mentors college students with disabilities while preparing them for law school. As a fellow, her legal blog titled, “Protecting Roe v. Wade: Reproductive Rights Are Disability Rights,“ was recognized by White House Staff.  I’ve abridged the interview for this blog post, as it was an amazing one-hour conversation.

Kayley: Angelica, can you tell me why reproductive justice is important to you?

Angelica: Reproductive care is so intertwined with the disability community. It’s about our right to bodily autonomy and privacy. I’ve lived nearly my entire life with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which is a hormonal condition that can afflict people with uteruses. Besides inducing symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sleep apnea, and metabolic syndrome, PCOS can also create menstrual irregularities which might negatively impact an individual’s fertility, and may even lead to endometrial cancer later in life if not treated. While PCOS is quite common among people with uteruses—studies on women have shown it affects 6 to 18 percent of women at reproductive age—it’s often underdiagnosed or diagnosed late.

Underdiagnosis and late diagnosis of PCOS is especially common in people of color, including myself. It was very frustrating to get a diagnosis, as I had to constantly convince doctors of my existence and my experiences of pain. I had doctors tell me my symptoms were because I was “just overweight” and not because of PCOS. While fighting to receive a diagnosis, I was simultaneously dealing with iron deficiency-related fatigue brought on by my heavy irregular menstruation, forcing me to take time off from school to manage my symptoms. I ended up having to see three different doctors just to get the diagnosis, which was then followed up by the entirely separate challenge of obtaining access to contraceptives, which are proven to be an effective means of treatment. Despite the contraceptives being recommended by our doctors, we had to pay their costs out-of-pocket during the early stages of treatment.

Kayley: Is there anything else you wanted to share about your identity and experiences?

Angelica: As an Afro-Latina, I sometimes feel left out of the conversations about and within the Latine community. But I feel that’s changing. This year the official Latine/Hispanic Heritage Month theme [note: AWN refers to it as Latine Heritage Month to be more inclusive] is “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation.” The theme is about ensuring all voices are heard and valued, and I think that’s a great message.

 illustration and text against a very pale pink and pale blue background. 

In bright pink and purple text at top, it reads:

“AWN CELEBRATES

BI VISIBILITY DAY

September 23, 2022”

Beneath the text is a drawing of five people of varying hair styles, hair color and clothing. The person at center is jumping in the air, with their hands extended and they are waving a small bi pride flag in the air. They have short pink hair and pink underarm hair. The two people to the right of them are leaning into one another and have their hands cupped together to make a heart. To the left are two people wearing varying clothes in blue, purple and pink and holding up a peace sign, with smiling expressions.

In the lower right is the awn logo: a large pink “a” with the teal spoonie dragonfly. Below the “a” is our website: awnnetwork.org   ]

Kayley: Can we talk more about how the Dobbs decision striking down Roe v Wade affects Latines and other people of color who can get pregnant? 

Angelica: As of August 25, at least 12 states have outlawed abortion in nearly all instances – Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas. Five states have had abortion bans temporarily blocked by restraining orders from courts, but as many as 26 states could likely outlaw abortion and other services in their entirety.

Many people of color and disabled people already mistrust the medical system because of historic discrimination, such as the experiences I shared about trying to get a diagnosis for my PCOS. Now there’s a fear of being prosecuted for trying to access reproductive health care, including abortion. Our right to privacy and choice in the management of our own health is being taken away. Many people have even taken to deleting period tracking apps on their phones out of fear of potentially having their user data collected and used against them. After I started managing my PCOS, I used to use apps like these to help keep track of my period cycles. It’s terrible that people now have to live in fear of how such personal information could be used to discriminate against them. Even doctors are expressing their fears of being prosecuted and criminalized for providing certain types of care.

Many reproductive justice advocates are now trying to ring the alarm that access to a key medication commonly used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcers, and cancer may now be restricted by Dobbs. That’s because this medication, Methotrexate, can also be used to terminate nonviable pregnancies, where a fertilized egg grows outside the womb. This has already started happening, including to one woman in Missouri, which banned all abortions almost immediately after Dobbs. Her pharmacist wouldn’t fill her prescription until confirming it wasn’t for an abortion. Advocates fear insurance companies may stop covering Methotrexate. Restrictions to medication access could go well beyond Methotrexate, including any medicines that may be shown to possibly cause birth defects.

Kayley: And even before the Dobbs decision, many Latines and people of color had difficulty accessing abortion because of financial barriers and the effects of racism. Can you speak to that?

Angelica: Yes, because of structural racism and income inequality, many people of color are covered by Medicaid. Yet shortly after the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, Congress enacted the Hyde Amendment which banned federal funds including Medicaid from being used to fund abortion. Forty-three percent of low-income Latines lack any health insurance, the highest number for any group. In addition to insurance, people of color are more likely to live further away from clinics providing any form of reproductive care. That also means needing paid time off, childcare, and money for travel, which less people of color have access to, and leads to many Latines delaying care. For Spanish speakers, there’s often a lack of information or misinformation about abortion care, which has increased after Dobbs. For immigrants, there’s often a fear of seeing doctors or traveling out of state because of immigration enforcement and Border control checkpoints inside the US. New abortion restriction laws will make it even more difficult or even impossible for people of color and immigrants to access abortion, and misinformation is being spread about how abortions can affect immigration status as well.  People can learn more about all of this from the Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.

Kayley: I think it’s important to push back against stereotypes that Latines are against abortion. In fact most Latines care deeply about abortion access, right?

Angelica: Yes, a survey at the end of July showed that for the first time ever, access to abortion has entered the top 5 issues for Latine voters. This survey, conducted by civil rights and advocacy group UnidosUS and civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota, also found that 70% of respondents said that abortion should be legal regardless of personal beliefs. We’re seeing Latine voters becoming very active, and this midterm election we could see high turnouts for pro-abortion candidates.

Graphic: A majority of women of color agree abortion should be legal in most cases. 2 in 3 women of color think pregnant people should be able to access abortion in all or most cases. All cases: Black 49%, Latina 49%, AAPI 52%. Never: Black 5%, Latina 12%, AAPI 12%. Source: The Harris Poll

Kayley: I recently watched a panel discussing these themes I highly recommend. It featured Lupe Rodriguez, Executive Director of National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, and Marcella Howell, Founder and President in Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda (watch it here). They discussed how support for abortion by Latina women has increased by 14 percentage points from 2019 to 2022, a bigger shift than any other group.

Angelica: Yes, we’re seeing a major shift. I think many Latines were shocked by the Dobbs decision, and it’s forced conversations about reproductive health to start happening. Many people have personal experiences which make this important to them, and there was an urgency to protect each other. Because abortion and reproductive justice is often hush-hush in Church, it was a shock to hear from a lot of fellow churchgoers that they had experiences they wanted to share.

Kayley: Right. My family has always been Catholic, I understand your Protestant, and I think there’s this assumption that because many Latines are churchgoers, they’re anti-abortion. But that never was the case in my family. My mother has always believed in reproductive rights. Her mother, who is Guatemalan, also cared deeply about the issue and even volunteered to teach sex education in Catholic schools in the town of Huehuetenango. 

Angelica: Yes, I grew up in the church, but it doesn’t mean I’m conservative. It’s important we break down stereotypes about Latines, and the idea that all people going to church are conservative. This is about the right to make our own decisions, and to seek out the best care. My family is pro-choice, and after the leaked opinion on the Dobbs case my mom encouraged me to speak out. She told me, “Though you’re young, your voice has weight, your story has power, so speak your truth.”

Key Findings: Reproductive Rights are a priority for women of color voters. 86% of women of color voters want their politicians to respect a woman's autonomy over her reproductive health.

Kayley: Do you have advice for other Latines who care about this issue?

Angelica: I hope our community sustains this rage as our fundamental rights are being taken away. I tell everybody that we cannot be complacent anymore. Run for public office, vote, donate to organizations doing the good work already. Just talking about abortion and being open about your experiences with reproductive health has power.

A panel seated with microphones at the Coelho Law Center.  From left to right: Katherine Perez, Nira Nova and Angelica Vega
A panel at the Coelho Law Center. From left to right: Katherine Perez, Nira Nova and Angelica Vega

In June I got to attend a White House meeting about reproductive rights with other disabled activists. I shared my story with the White House Gender Policy Council and the White House Office of Public Engagement alongside some of the most important people in the disability community. Together we were able to help shape new United States Department of Health and Human Services guidelines to protect and uphold reproductive care. It was a powerful experience.  As much as numbers and facts are important, speaking your truth about how these issues affect you personally can make a real difference.

Angelica Vega

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top