By: Victoria Torres, 1 in 3 Campaign Activist with Advocates for Youth
Victoria Torres, 21, is 1 in 3 Campaign activist with Advocates for Youth, a national organization dedicated to uplifting policies and programs that allow young people to make the best decisions about their own reproductive and sexual health.
As a peer wellness educator and activist for over six years, I’ve seen first-hand how financial barriers to reproductive health put families, especially low-income families, at risk.
The high school I attended offered sexual health education and contraceptives, but like many programs encouraged abstinence. The reality is that teens are having sex and young people need comprehensive sexual health programs that teach us the full range of reproductive health.
I am a first-generation Latina who comes from a low-income background. My mother is from Mexico—she came to America looking for a better life and to get away from the generational poverty she lived in. My dad is from Puerto Rico. And even though my parents are no longer together, they have always wanted more for me. Money has always been an issue, but my mother was doing all she could to make ends meet.
In my culture, talking about sex and birth control is forbidden. There’s an unspoken rule about sex – don’t have it. I had to find resources and answers to my questions on my own. And at 19 years old and a sophomore in college I became pregnant. I was sexually active and the recommended birth control for my body size cost more than $120 per month. I could not afford it and took the generic $20 option. I was also an uninsured college student because my university insurance cost more than $1,200 a year. As a struggling college student there was no way I could afford it.
When I found out I was around three months pregnant I automatically knew I did not want to be a parent. I was still in school and wanted to get my degree. I knew that abortion was something I wanted. When I sought out resources I came across Aid for Women, a crisis pregnancy center that gave me misleading medical information and basically tried to talk me out of my abortion. It was incredibly belittling and hurtful. All I wanted was an abortion and someone who knew nothing about my background tried to make me feel like I was in a crisis, which I knew I wasn’t. In that moment I needed access to healthcare, not their judgement.
I reached out to Planned Parenthood and was able to get the care I needed. There they offered a sliding scale payment process so I didn’t have to pay as much.
Now at 21 years old, I’ve had two abortions and do not regret either of them. For my second abortion, I remember a nurse came out and said, “line up if you’re here for the abortion.” She corrected herself and called out a list of numbers that were associated with a pregnant individual. I stood in line with 11 other women, all of whom identified as women of color. I felt empowered and unafraid because most of us were talking about how this wasn’t our first abortion. There’s an extra level of stigma associated with having more than one abortion but being open about the financial barriers and stigma helped me understand I was not alone.
My ability to make my own reproductive health decision on abortion was focused on costs. I knew I wanted the procedure. The question was not if I should or should not have an abortion, instead it was whether I could afford it. For many, the unforeseen costs associated with having an abortion, such as transportation, foregone wages, and childcare if needed, put many people in the tough decision of deciding whether or not to carry a pregnancy that they know they don’t want. I know that if I was unable to overcome the financial barriers of getting an abortion, I would have been stuck in the generational poverty that my mother was trying to get away from.
Reproductive and sexual freedom is at its core an economic issue, and we need to provide young people with the information and resources they need to make the best decisions about their own reproductive and sexual health.