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Abortion Havens Short on Spanish Speakers Scramble to Prepare

July 5, 2022, 9:45 AM

Abortion providers in states billing themselves as safe havens are grappling with how best to serve an influx of clients who may not speak fluent English, given the limited resources available.

Some of those safe-haven states, like Minnesota, have small Hispanic and Latino populations. Providing translators and ensuring necessary forms are available in Spanish or other languages will further strain the budgets of small women’s health clinics. However, reproductive rights advocates said those steps are necessary to ensure that every client can access needed treatments.

“The language barrier has always existed,” said América Ramirez, program director at the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.

“But now, knowing that abortion services are going to be stretched, knowing that funding and all of these things are also going to be stretched will directly and indirectly impact monolingual Spanish speakers from being able to have the support and access those services.”

At least 15 states and the District of Columbia made themselves available for people who need a safe and legal abortion in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. They expect hundreds of thousands to come from states that have already or will soon ban abortions. The growing demand in the remaining states will require additional funding and resources as abortion providers rethink how they offer their services to a changing clientele.

“We’re trying to ensure that any kind of information about the laws right now is in Spanish and goes out to Spanish language speakers across the country,” said Lupe M. Rodriguez, executive director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.

“But we need help. Advocates, providers, we can’t do it alone. So we’re also thinking about creative ways that our legislators can support in this moment. States like California, New York, Oregon, Colorado said they’re safe havens, right? It’s important to hold them accountable to those promises and ensure that they’re doing whatever they can to provide the resources and support for this new wave of people that will be traveling in.”

Meeting the Demand

Colorado, which codified abortion rights under the Reproductive Health Equity Act in April, has already seen demand increase since Texas effectively banned the procedure last year. The demand is only expected to grow.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains anticipates an additional 10,000 patients will seek abortions annually, with roughly 7,000 coming from Texas alone. But it has “strong translation and interpretation services available,” said Neta Meltzer, regional communications and marketing director at the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

States like Colorado that boast about being safe havens for abortion need to ensure those services are available to all who need them, Ramirez said.

“If the most marginalized, especially our immigrant communities, can’t access those services, who is Colorado a safe haven for—folks who have the means and the privilege to be able to get to the state, make an appointment, and navigate that without the support,” she said.

Providing that additional support can be challenging for small clinics with few resources to spare.

“We’re obviously expecting many people to come, but we’re a really small and independent clinic, so we don’t have enough funds that we could provide translators for patients,” said a spokeswoman at the Women’s Health Services in Brookline, Mass.

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering funneling $2 million into abortion access in anticipation of an influx of patients from other states.

In Minnesota, where nearly 84% of the population is white, Gov. Tim Walz (D) issued an executive order June 25 to protect individuals in need of abortion services from bans in surrounding states like South Dakota and North Dakota.

Abortion providers like Whole Woman’s Health are already thinking about meeting demand from those who may not speak English as their first language.

“If there’s a need for translation services or for interpretation services, we reach out to make sure that we can staff our clinic with people that are able to meet that demand,” said Andrea Ferrigno, corporate vice president of Whole Woman’s Health.

“So, if we see a big percentage of the patients who speak a specific language, then we try to recruit staff that speak that language. It’s that simple. We want to make sure that we have representation in our clinic, so that the people we’re going to serve will actually know and see that they have our support.”

Planned Parenthood receives funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ayanna Alexander in Washington at aalexander@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com; Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergindustry.com