In this March 12, 2012, file photo, Arizona House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko is pinned by girl scouts during a ceremony in the old Senate Chambers in Phoenix. The Republican legislator is sponsoring a bill that could force women to prove to their employers that theyâre taking birth control for a medical reason such as acne, rather than to prevent pregnancy. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Dave Seibert)
Getting fired for using birth control? Asking permission from your boss to use contraception?
Though this may sound like something out of some old military dictatorship or out of a science fiction movie, it may become the law of the land in Arizona. Arizona, the state that's leading the national charge against immigrants is now gearing up to lead the national war against women. HB-2625 is the worst anti-woman, anti-Latina efforts to date.
This latest attack against women's health is based on the false and irrational argument that “mom and pop” shops have the right to deny their employees access to birth control based on their religious believes. The bill would allow employers to take away health coverage if a woman is using birth control to prevent pregnancy. It has already passed the lower House and awaits approval in the Arizona Senate.
As if passing policies such as SB-1070, the highly controversial racial profiling law and the outrageous ban on books, were not enough, now Arizona is narrowing in on women and Latinas are target number one. When we consider, for example, that Latinas are already among one of the highest uninsured groups in our country and that 97 percent of sexually active Latinas between the ages 15 and 44 have used some form of contraception, H.B. 2526 is a clear attack in the escalating the war on Latinas.
If this bill passes, even more Latinas stand to lose their healthcare benefits, in addition to facing public discrimination, sexism and humiliation in their workplaces when asked about their sexual life by their supervisors. This is nothing less than a radical assault on Latinas reproductive rights and access to health. And unfortunately, like Arizona's draconian immigration proposal, which inspired dozens of copycat laws across the country, similar attacks on Latinas and other women are coming to a state near you soon. This year alone hundreds of anti-reproductive health laws were introduced in state houses across the country.
Some of these bills include Virginia's extreme and intrusive transvaginal ultrasound mandate for women seeking abortion. As if the trauma of having to have a medical procedure to end an unwanted pregnancy was not enough, this bill would subject women to having a large phallic ultrasound machine be inserted into their vaginas prior to having an abortion. In Latino-heavy Texas there is a big push to defund Planned Parenthood, cutting off at least 60,000 low-income women from their health care providers. This would put and end to mammograms, cervical cancer screening and other vital reductive health services for women. For hundreds of thousands of poor Latinas these clinics provide their only access to healthcare and may mean a death sentence given that Latinas have some of the highest cervical cancer rates.
Arizonas HB-2625 and other copycat legislation constitute a twisted attempt to attack President Obama's health plan, as extreme elements in the GOP are working to end reproductive health care benefits such as birth-control pills and pap smears everywhere. When we consider that even 96% of sexually active Catholic Latinas use contraception or that Latinas have the highest rate of cervical cancer of any group in the US – going after tax dollars that pay for these services goes against the needs and interest of Latinas everywhere.
Our silence allows religious and political conservatives who claim Latinas and Latinos are “traditional” or “culturally conservative” to continue propping up this myth and to justify putting forward laws that hurt our communities. We are being told that we are anti-choice because many of us come from Catholic backgrounds. This claim is fictional and dangerous. A recent Latino Decisions poll concluded that 80% of Latinas and Latinos believe women should have easy access to birth control. In fact over 60% of Latino conservatives, men, U.S. born, Catholics, born again Christians, women, and immigrants strongly agree women should have easy access to birth control. Keeping silent on these issues allows social conservatives to claim our support to their anti-woman agenda. The time for the pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights Latina majority to speak up is now!
Women of all races around the country are standing up to these dangerous attacks on women’s reproductive rights, and we, Latinas must join them to fight against local bills aimed at destroying our ability to be in charge of our health and bodies. This fight begins in Arizona.
Ana C. Pérez is the National Movement Builder at PRESENTE. She has been working for human, civil and immigrant rights for more than 15 years.