The recent decision by the U.S Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade is the latest in a series of attacks on the women who plant, harvest, and pack much of the food we eat.
I’ve worked as a farmworker myself and have been supporting farmworkers—particularly women—for the last 35 years. Women farmworkers make up approximately one-third of the agricultural workforce in this country. Name a food, and it is likely that a female farmworker had some role in cultivating and growing it.
“Pregnant farmworkers—whether they are rape victims or have other reasons to end their pregnancies—often face pressure to carry their pregnancy to term and must contend with intense feelings of shame.”
Farmworker women face many challenges when navigating abortion, birth control, and other aspects of their reproductive health, and this court decision will make that process all the more difficult.
Farmworkers receive notoriously low wages and lack many of the rights to which other workers in this country are entitled. They’re also often undocumented, and that status also greatly limits their access to healthcare. As a result, many farmworker women rely on community clinics and local health centers.
Unfortunately, these clinics are often far from where they live, offer limited hours of operation, and lack culturally relevant and trauma-informed care. The workers who travel there must typically miss work in order to receive care. There is also the lack of public transportation, high out-of-pocket costs, and language barriers.
Beyond these logistical challenges, many farmworkers live in communities where abortion is discouraged for both religious and cultural reasons. And yet, many farmworkers are also very far from their families, and lack support networks that can help them raise children, so carrying a pregnancy to term is much less feasible.
Pregnant farmworkers—whether they are rape victims or have other reasons to end their pregnancies—often face pressure to carry their pregnancy to term and must contend with intense feelings of shame. For many, even conceiving of having an abortion is seen as “wrong”—it is seen as a mancha (stain) on your reputation in the community and family. For all these reasons, many farmworkers don’t seek out abortions.
Over the years, many of the women with whom I’ve worked have confided in me about their pregnancies. I wanted to take some of the pressure off these workers, providing them with whatever space they needed to express themselves, learn about reproductive rights, and become empowered about how they wanted to live. Sometimes we went to Planned Parenthood, and at other times, the women chose to have their children.
Now, those already-difficult conversations will be made even more challenging for farmworkers in states where abortion isn’t protected. In addition to weighing the shame they may feel, they’ll now have to ask themselves whether they can afford to cross state lines—in addition to taking even more time off and possibly finding care for their existing children.
“In order for farmworker women to feel empowered and informed to take back control of their bodies, they need to have the support and assistance to make that possible.”
Such an economic burden on these women, who already suffer poverty-level wages, will undoubtedly make their lives that much harder. And in some cases, it could also mean a rise in unsafe, illegal abortions among this population. On a broader scale, experts say that women of color are most likely to be impacted by the decision.
While the loss of the protections we had under Roe is a devastating blow to reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, one thing we know for sure is that farmworker women are resilient and determined.
Safe abortions, and access to affordable reproductive healthcare should be a given. In order for farmworker women to feel empowered and informed to take back control of their bodies, they need to have the support and assistance to make that possible. And farmworker women need to be at the center of broader conversations about reproductive rights and health justice.
Their experiences and expertise will help us move towards providing care for everyone.
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