Fire in the Belly II: Alma Avila Pilchman

We bring you another awesome young woman working in reproductive justice…

Alma Avila Pilchman participates regularly in a progressive radio show, “La onda bajita” (“The Flowing Wave”) at KPFA in Berkeley , CA . She also contributes to “La voz” (“The Voice”) in San Francisco , CA . This program covers a variety of political issues important to Latino communities in the Bay Area, and Alma was responsible for the creation of several segments on women’s issues relating to abortion, sexuality, and self-esteem.
1. What kind of work do you do regarding reproductive justice?
Starting during my law study at the Universidad Autonoma de Nayarit, Mexico (Facultad de Derecho), I helped and supported women as they looked for realistic reproductive choices in a country where women’s reproductive freedom was severely limited. I moved to the U.S. in 2002, and spent four years as the bilingual practical support hotline Program Director for ACCESS in Oakland , California , a reproductive health access organization. Most recently, I have been serving as a hotline volunteer for the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), an abortion fund in Los Angeles , and a research consultant at Ibis Reproductive Health in San Francisco for a project called “Abortion Self-Induction Among Latina Women.” Both ACCESS and WRRAP are members of the National Network of Abortion Funds, and I have been on the Network’s board of directors since 2003.
2. Why were you drawn to this work?
This is where my heart is. I am from Mexico and whenever I am there I consistently witness women struggle to get their abortions. Only very recently–less than two years ago–was abortion legalized in Mexico City . Before then, women had three kinds of abortions: self-induced abortions, abortions caused by medication purchased on the black market, and illegal medical abortions performed by doctors, an option available only to wealthy women. For women in rural Mexico who are unable to travel, these are still the only options available.
The truth is, sometimes there are just as few options available to women in the U.S. –this is true for rural women, poor women, very young girls, immigrant women, women in prison, and many other women.
Once I moved to the United States , where every day there are still thousands of women struggling to afford abortions, I came to realize that the legal right to abortion cannot be the only solution. When a woman can’t access abortion–because of geography, practicality, language barriers, or her economic situation–it doesn’t really matter whether it’s legal.
I do this work because I owe it to my friends, to my sister friends, to my nieces, to my mother, and to all those women who right now are fighting to protect their wombs.
3. What’s the most frustrating part of your job? The most thrilling?
The most frustrating part:
When a women cannot get her abortion. When I hear something like, “It was too late,” “I couldn’t get to the clinic,” “I couldn’t come up with the money!” It is more than frustrating; it is very, very sad.
The most thrilling part:
When women are able to overcome barriers and get their abortions. When I hear in their voices the feeling that they are getting a second chance to change their lives. The fact that women are exercising their right to choose with respect and dignity–and that they are able to have legal and safe abortions!
Access to abortion is a matter of hope, of survival, of opportunities, health, and choice!

4. There are plenty of people who think that post-Roe women take their rights for granted. What would you like to say to these folks?
I am a post-Roe woman (I was born in 1974), and at the same time I have lived in a place where abortion was illegal. I have seen it from both sides.
While it may be true that some of us haven’t gotten the message that we are under attack in the U.S. –that our rights are being taking away with laws like “parental notification” and “24-hour waiting periods”–there are many of us who are dedicating ourselves to this issue. I think that mainstream reproductive rights organizations are still in the process of recognizing that, and are only now beginning to accept young women, and especially women of color, as strong activist leaders.
Also, it is imperative to redefine what being pro-choice means. Young people are seeing abortion rights differently than those who were part of Roe. For us, abortion is only a piece of the huge puzzle of women’s rights, and ultimately human rights.
I am thankful to all those wonderful and strong women that worked so hard to build the foundation of the reproductive rights movement.
5. What’s one thing that a reader can do right now to help make your job easier?
Engage! Join an abortion access group. Donate to groups that make real choice accessible to women. Support your friend, your cousin, your mother, your daughter, your co-worker, when she decides to have an abortion. Pay attention to restrictions that are incrementally taking away our rights and access. Join campaigns to keep abortion coverage in health care reform. Be heard!

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