U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; New York State Assemblymembers Catalina Cruz, Jessica González-Rojas, Jonathan Rivera, and Kenny Burgos; New York City Council Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala; and New York City Councilmember Crystal Hudson met with advocates at the 2022 SOMOS Puerto Rico Conference to discuss ways to help Puerto Rican women access critical reproductive health care services, including contraceptives, contraceptive and pregnancy counseling, and cancer screenings.
Sen. Gillibrand talked with members from the Hispanic Federation, Centro MAM, Proyecto Matria, ProFamilias, and Taller Salud on how to further expand services throughout the island in light of the limited access Puerto Rican women face. Puerto Rico has only four comprehensive reproductive health care clinics serving more than 3.2 million people, with three of those clinics located in San Juan. Advocates also discussed how the high cost of reproductive care is also a major hurdle, with clinics on the island receiving inequitable public funding.
“We have to do everything we can to make sure every Puerto Rican woman, regardless of where she lives on the island, can access comprehensive reproductive care,” said U.S. Senator Gillibrand. “Between attacks on reproductive freedom and devastation from natural disasters, Puerto Rican women are experiencing increased threats to their access to care. It is unacceptable and why I’m meeting with reproductive rights advocates in Puerto Rico today.”
“Women in Puerto Rico face a host of daunting challenges and disparities when it comes to reproductive rights and access to reproductive healthcare, yet we are left entirely out of the national conversation on these issues,” said Charlotte Gossett Navarro, Hispanic Federation’s Puerto Rico Chief Director. “Abortion is still legal, but under constant attack in the legislature and our collapsing, underfunded healthcare system puts women and children’s health at risk. People who care about reproductive justice, including gender violence and access to abortion, must also care about the women in Puerto Rico and include them in national policy and advocacy spaces. We thank Senator Gillibrand for helping to accomplish that by making these issues a priority during her time in Puerto Rico.”
“Midwives are leaders in humanized care and provide choices for communities about when, where and how one wants to birth,” said Vanessa Caldari, Centro MAM founder, director and midwife. “The midwifery model of care is an evidence-based strategy for providing high quality, reproductive care as cornerstones to human rights and reproductive justice. Every woman and person deserves support, education and informed choice when making decisions about their bodies. Midwives have proven to be key players in supporting reproductive rights.”
“In comparison to the states, Puerto Rico is the most impoverished. Access to abortion and contraceptive healthcare for women and pregnant people have been increasingly threatened since the appointment of Federal Fiscal Board in 2016, three hurricanes (2017, 2022), earthquakes (2019, 2020), Covid-19 and Roe v. Wade derogation (2022),” said Frances Collazo, Profamilias Advocacy & Abortion Access Advisor. “It is urgent for Federal healthcare policy and national sexual & reproductive rights activists to take to account the necessities of our people, especially women and youth.”
“The femicide rate in Puerto Rico is 3. With that rate, we rank 13th among all jurisdictions in the United States. We recognize that the state of social and economic inequality in which women live in our country is a risk factor for gender violence. It is impossible to separate this discussion on violence from the issue of sexual and reproductive rights,” said Proyecto Matria, Inc. Executive Director Amárilis Pagán. “If women are denied the most basic – to make decisions about their bodies – we are depriving them of the rest of their rights. Because there will be no access to education, work, health, housing, and their full development as long as they continue to be controlled by the State and conservative groups succeed in their intention of making decisions for them.”
“It was an honor to participate in this morning’s reproductive rights round table at Mujeres Ayundando Madres to learn more about the political and medical status of choice and motherhood in Puerto Rico, as well as to share and collaborate on our collective experiences both in New York and on the Island. We must take any and all necessary steps to protect our right to choose everywhere. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for prioritizing women’s health and convening this important meeting,” said Assemblywoman Cruz.
“I’m grateful to Senator Gillibrand for hosting today’s roundtable on reproductive healthcare and gender equity here in Puerto Rico. As I work with my colleagues in Albany to expand access to abortion care, combat racial disparities in maternal mortality, and protect people from gender-based violence and discrimination in New York, I’m keenly aware of all the barriers that women and marginalized genders face in achieving reproductive justice in Puerto Rico. I condemn the anti-abortion legislation currently in Puerto Rico’s legislature, and I encourage Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would be one step toward reproductive justice in Puerto Rico and across the country,” said Assemblymember González-Rojas.
“This morning’s reproductive rights round table was a critically important discussion regarding the health and well-being of women and mothers living both in Puerto Rico and New York. As an ally, I understand the necessity of learning from the experiences of women as it pertains to their reproductive freedoms. I thank Senator Gillibrand for organizing this meeting and inviting me to participate,” said Assemblymember Rivera.
“Learning from the experiences of women living both in Puerto Rico and New York is an imperative first step in advancing the protections for reproductive choice and health. This morning’s round table is the first step in a necessary and ongoing dialogue towards collective solutions. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for allowing me to participate this morning and for being at the forefront of this important issue,” said Assemblymember Burgos.
“Access to reproductive healthcare is a constitutional right awarded to all women and people with uteruses throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, regardless of what the Supreme Court says. Going forward it’s not only important that we protect one’s right to choose, but that we also put in place policies that protect the mental and physical well-being of all,” said Deputy Speaker New York City Council Ayala.
“Black women are eight times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts in New York City. Like me, many of those Black women trace their roots to the Caribbean and Latin America. In New York City, we will unequivocally fight for abortion access and reproductive justice for all people, alongside our partners in Puerto Rico,” said Councilmember Hudson. “Our struggles for bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom are deeply linked. I’m grateful to Senator Gillibrand and my colleagues in the New York City Council and New York State legislature for joining activists and advocates in Puerto Rico who continue to fight for our collective freedom.”
Senator Gillibrand supports the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, which would create a statutory right to provide and receive reproductive health care. She also supports the Expanding Access to Family Planning Act to provide consistent and equitable funding for the Title X Family Planning Program. This robust source of funding would help provide and protect access to critical reproductive health care services like contraceptives, contraceptive and pregnancy counseling, cancer screenings, and more.