Immigrants express a different reality on abortion rights

Abortion Rights March
Loreen Targos holds up a poster that points out the hypocrisy of the Pro-life movement. (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)

By Vishakha Darbha

Standing amid a sea of posters that proclaimed “My body, My Choice,” Loreen Targos recalled a story her mother had narrated to her about abortion in Taiwan.

Her mother’s friend did not want to have a sixth child, and lost her life in a desperate attempt to get an illegal abortion.

“She drank something that a back-alley doctor gave to her, because she had already had five children and there was no one willing to take care of her sixth,” said Targos, one among a few hundred pro-abortion protestors who had gathered outside Chicago Federal Court on S Dearborn Street Sunday.

“What if you were raped, will you be forced to carry that child? There definitely needs to be access to reproductive care for immigrants,” she said.

Loreen Targos recalls the abortion story of her mother’s friend. (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)

The march, held by Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Uprising (FURIE), did not see a very diverse crowd. According to organizer Lauren Bianchi, this was due to immigrant communities having their own support groups.

“Chicago has a Polish community, a Hispanic community, an Asian community. The women often reach out to their own organizations for help,” said Bianchi.

Sangeetha Ravichandran wasn’t present at the rally, but had a strong view toward reproductive rights of immigrant women, particularly those from the South Asian community.

As the manager of counseling at Apna Ghar, an organization that supports South Asian women experiencing gender violence and discrimination, Ravichandran deals with survivors of domestic violence and marital rape, often leading to a decision on abortion.

When it comes to some South Asian immigrant families, consent for abortion is taken and not asked for, declared Ravichandran.

“I had to help a Muslim woman whose mother-in-law only partially translated her need for an abortion. The woman did not know of the care she needed to take following her operation, and even the doctor had no idea of the lack of consent,” said Ravichandran.

FURIE teamed up with Apna Ghar during the case of Purvi Patel, a woman of South Asian decent living in Indiana who was arrested in 2013 on the grounds of “feticide” as well as “neglect of a dependent.” She was the first woman in the U.S. to be convicted of feticide, and Patel is still waiting for a verdict on her appeal.

The march on Jan 17 was the second annual pro-abortion march held in response to the Illinois March for Life, which took place right across the road. It was being held in light of the 43rd anniversary of Roe Vs. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that stated that women could terminate a pregnancy depending on the circumstances.

Immigrant women, however, have a different reality. Apart from cultural differences, religion plays an important role in distinguishing these women from the rest of the American female population.

“They want the abortion, but they are always aware that they are going against the word of their God. Many of these women don’t call home and inform their families of their situation,” said Maritza Rocha, the youth program director at Mujeres Latinas En Accion, about women from Central and South America.

While most health clinics steer clear of undocumented women, Heartland Alliance and Erie Free clinic are some of the few that provide services, while NAF and Planned Parenthood hire Spanish staff to help with translations.

Despite the dearth of information or health care services, in Rocha’s opinion, the situation is starting to show signs of improvement.

“I believe that Latinas are gradually taking advantage of the few free clinics available to them,” she said. “There are definitely more services available in the U.S. than in their home countries, and often for such women religion or cultural barriers do not surpass their needs.”

Photo on Top: Loreen Targos holds up a poster that points out the hypocrisy of the Pro-life movement. (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)