At just 24 years old, Natalie Casanova couldn't seem to catch a break. She was juggling a full college course load, trapped in an abusive relationship, and then was given the bombshell news she was pregnant and had a small clump of cervical cancer. Her gynecologist said that going through with the pregnancy would put her life at risk. At seven weeks pregnant, she decided to get an abortion.
Today, Casanova is a 32-year-old Latina content creator known as the Zombi Unicorn, who has since escaped her abusive relationship. She still doesn't feel ready for motherhood and may never change her mind. She takes the proper precautions to lessen the chances she'll get pregnant again. She told POPSUGAR that abortion was a life-altering decision, but one that she doesn't regret.
The decision about whether or not to have an abortion is one faced by nearly one third of women in America, yet it's a right under attack by recent anti-abortion legislation that has penetrated many Southern states, including growing Latinx communities. The reality: nearly one in every four women has an abortion by age 45 per an analysis published in the American Journal of Health in 2017.
"The truth is, Latinx, like the majority of the population, believe that the decision to have an abortion should be left to a woman in consultation with her family, her doctor, and her faith," Johanny Adames, associate director of Latino media and communications at Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told POPSUGAR. "Latinx in this country are very supportive of access to reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion."
The controversial addition of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, which tips the scales over to conservatives, poses a real threat to the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, that gave a woman the right to terminate her pregnancy. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey already signed a near total abortion ban into law that could result in lifetime prison sentences for doctors who perform abortions. It prohibits abortion even in cases of rape or incest, and is regarded as the country's strictest abortion law. Meanwhile, other states like Missouri and Georgia are attempting or have passed similar legislation.
"It is worrisome and in particular because Alabama and Georgia are among the states with the most rapidly growing Latinx populations, so we know our communities will be directly impacted by these laws," Maria Elena Perez, deputy director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, told POPSUGAR. "That said, we also want to stress that despite this horrible law being signed in Alabama, abortion is still legal in Alabama and across all 50 states," she added. "For now, the law won't go into effect for six months and our poderosas on the ground will continue fighting to make sure this and other similar laws will never go into effect. When we educate our communities about the restrictions that exist in their states, they are surprised and they want to mobilize against them. They understand that these barriers impact the autonomy of their daughters, their sisters, their aunts, and their loved ones."
It's affected Natalie Casanova to the point she went public with her abortion story for the first time on Twitter. "I've never put it out there that publicly, but I thought, 'You know what, I'm going to do it,'" Casanova told POPSUGAR. "I saw Busy Phillips and her hashtag that she started: #YouKnowMe, and it really resonated with me because it's kind of like you don't really know how many people around you have experienced this because nobody talks about it. It shouldn't be like that. We need support and we need to remove the stigma from it so that we can stop these people who want to control women's bodies," Casanova added.
I was 24, full-time college student, in a mentally & physically abusive relationship. My OB just found clump of cervical cancer & said going through with pregnancy would mean complications & could possibly risk my life. I had an abortion @ 7wks. 1 in 4 women have them #youknowme— 🧟♀️ ZombiUnicorn 🦄 Ⓥ (@TheZombiUnicorn) May 15, 2019
She acknowledges how the full support of her immediate family made a huge difference in how she processed her own abortion experience. There is a perception historically that Latino culture stigmatizes abortions because it goes against the Catholic faith, but new data and cases like Casanova's indicate the contrary.
According to a poll commissioned by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, 67 percent of Latino voters do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, while 82 percent agree that women should make their own decision about abortion without government interference.
"We also know that when it comes to contraception, data shows that many religious Latinx support it even if their church leaders take a different position," Adames said. "The majority of Latinas, including Catholic Latinas, not only support the use of contraception and affordable access to it, they also use it themselves."
Adames expressed Planned Parenthood Action Fund's team is concerned these recent abortion bans and broader attack on reproductive health care could have a disproportionate impact on Latinas. This is because the Latino community is less likely to be insured, more likely to live in areas with poor access to family planning services and most likely to fall in the low-income category, which lessens its access to reproductive health care.
"Because Latinas already have so many barriers standing in their way to access this care, we have higher rates of unintended pregnancy among teens, the highest rates of cervical cancer, and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections than non-Hispanic white women," Adames told us.
These barriers have significant negative repercussions on the undocumented Latino community. "Many Latinx understand that these bans only serve to hurt our community. What we know to be true about these restrictions is that they disproportionately affect low-income people of color who are forced to travel long distances and pay high costs to obtain abortion care," Perez told us. "People with means will always seek abortion care somewhere else. And undocumented Latinx immigrants, many of whom cannot travel for fear of detention and deportation, have even fewer options."
Immigration and women's rights are hallmarks of original Women's March co-founder Paola Mendoza's activism. She publicly shared both her mother's abortion story — that of an immigrant woman seeking a better life for her already-born children, including Paola — and her own story — that of a woman who had a fetus growing inside of her that wouldn't make it to full term — to show support of women's right to choose.
"The emotional trauma I was going through knowing the fetus was inside of me, I couldn't imagine doing that for a week, a few weeks, let alone a month," Mendoza said in a heartfelt Instagram video regarding deciding to terminate the pregnancy over waiting to have a natural miscarriage."
If she had to make that decision today and was living in Alabama or another state proposing similar anti-abortion laws, Mendoza may not be able to get an abortion. "That's horrifying. We have to be able to fight for women to make that choice," she pleaded. On Twitter, she called on male allies to share their own experiences with abortion in a show of solidarity for women.
"The women have the right to choose, but the men are seeing the benefit of that," Mendoza told POPSUGAR. "I think how our allies and women can get involved is we have to support organizations that are on the front lines doing the work in those communities that are constantly having to fight for that right to choose. We have to remain strategic, remain intentional, and be fearless in our ability and desire to successfully uphold the right of women to choose."