Abortion is health care.
Abortion is technically legal in Puerto Rico, if it’s performed by a physician adhering to requirements put forth by the US Department of Health, and if it’s being done in order to save the life and/or health of the mother. Unlike in many US states, there’s no parental consent law, and a Google search for “abortion puerto rico” will render actual clinics that provide abortions (as opposed to crisis pregnancy centers).
Before Hurricane Maria virtually destroyed Puerto Rico’s infrastructure in September 2017, issues of abortion access on the island were similar to that of the continental United States. You need to be able to afford the procedure (the Hyde Amendment prevents public funds from being used to pay for abortion), travel to it, provide childcare, take a day (or more) off from work, and deal with a host of other obstacles, anticipated or not.
Hurricane Maria, and President Trump’s refusal to provide aid to the island, has negatively impacted abortion access, and health care overall, to say the least. It’s still unknown how many people died as a result of the storm and its aftermath. While in November the island restored 50% of its power (the power grid was destroyed), it is still vulnerable to blackouts, making the recovery process more tedious and those on the ground more desperate.
What is the state of abortion care in Puerto Rico right now? The Central Florida Women’s Emergency Fund is connecting those impacted by Hurricane Maria with the funding they need to access abortion care. Stephanie Loraine, Vice President of CFLWEF and a We Testify abortion storyteller, spoke with a staff member at Rio Piedras clinic of Profamilias, located in Hato Rey, San Juan. (Phone service on the island is still spotty, making connecting challenging.) According to staff, all of their associated clinics are open, and have seen an influx people in need of abortions who can’t afford it. Profamilias performs abortions on people who are up to 14 weeks pregnant, and will provide care to folks under 18.
The Women’s Medical Pavilion, located in Carolina, immediately east of San Juan, opened within one week after Maria, and the majority of its patients resemble those being seen at Profamilias – needing an abortion and unable to afford it, but also more than 14 weeks pregnant. Because the storm put so many out of work, saving up for the procedure became impossible, and if it did happen, the impact of the storm made it difficult to get to a clinic before the 14 week mark.
The location of the Women’s Medical Pavilion, very close to the capital of San Juan, means that it’s at the center of Puerto Rico’s rebuilding efforts, which are concentrated in areas known for tourism. Unfortunately, staff at Profamilias reported to Loraine, “Many people living on the outskirts, in the mountains are still struggling for basic needs like clean water and consistent electricity not provided through generators.” So, if you don’t live in San Juan or San Juan adjacent, getting food for your family is probably higher up on your list than abortion care, which you might not be able to access at all anyway for many reasons, including the fact that the roads on the island are still in disrepair.
Being denied abortion care for any reason has consequences. “There’s a fear that people who are being turned away for being too far along or who don’t have access to a clinic because they live too far could potentially have unsafe self induced abortions,” said Loraine. “There is very little access to healthcare because of the hurricane in general and the number of healthcare professionals dedicated to providing emergency care is dangerously low. Because of the stigma around abortion, especially self induced abortions, people experiencing abnormal symptoms may not reach out for help.”
So what is being done to connect people seeking abortions with the care they need? The Central Florida Women’s Emergency Fund has connected with open clinics in Puerto Rico to provide referrals to people who need abortions on the island or who are planning to or transitioning to life in Florida, where many Puerto Ricans are relocating after Maria. CFLWEF also has extended services in order to be able to provide funding to folks in Puerto Rico. You can give directly to CFLWEF here.
If you want to give to Puerto Rico’s overall reconstruction efforts, Lorraine recommends donating to Hispanic Federation: UNIDOS. 100% of donations support rebuilding Puerto Rican infrastructure, which includes environmental justice initiatives, health and food services, agriculture, and more.