We were thrilled to snag Juana Rosa Cavero for a quick conversation about her work as the director of the Reproductive Justice Coalition of Los Angeles. She has been working for reproductive justice, particular in communities of color, for several years, mixing astute on-the-ground advocacy experience with brilliant public policy analysis.
The Reproductive Justice Coalition works with over 25 social justice organizations, ranging from health-care to those that you might not expect to be associated with this work. Juana and her team remind us the importance and power in forging and strengthening these types of alliances and we will be sure to keep an eye on their future work!
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Juana Rosa Cavero!
Suzanna Bobadilla: What would you say to young people looking to get involved in their communities about reproductive justice but aren’t quite sure where to start?
Juana Rosa Cavero: Reproduce justice has to do with all issues affecting our community and not just from your boobs to your pelvis. When we are talking about a lack of transportation, people living in food deserts, high crime rate in our communities—those are all basic issues that if they are not resolved in communities then having full autonomy and information to make decisions about your body and the future aren’t going to happen.
When we work with reproductive justice (RJ), it’s important to work with, #1, organizations and social justice organizations that do this work, so we’re very collaborative. We have to work with those people who only do environment justice, that only do criminal justice and safety, we have to because just in people’s lives those are basic. Having access to a bus line that will take you to a clinic is essential to be able to make decisions about your reproductive health. So #1 is that we are very collaborative, we work access lines, and #2, working in RJ we have an opportunity to influence how other social justice organizations do their work.
Because we come at looking at the intersection of oppression, it’s very natural for RJ advocates to then get to a reproductive health care issue way later on in the campaign because we understand that we need to resolve, for example, the bus line issue in order to allow women the peace of mind or the ability to go in the direction of thinking about reproductive health—of theirs and their families.
SB: You’ve mentioned in other interviews the emphasis on your work within racial/ethnic communities. How does that intersectional awareness enhance your work within Reproductive Justice?
JRC: At the end of the day, we are ultimately working with people as individuals and a lot the issues around race and ethnicity allow us to do very cultural relevant work. When we are talking about abortion in a Latino community, and this is something that I will always be taking from the California Latinas for Reproductive Justice’s line, we don’t open the work with abortion. We open the door with, “How do you feel about talking about what’s down there?” We start with that rather than coming in there and saying, “All women should have equal access to abortion. Period.”
So being culturally sensitive, culturally competent, whatever hip word you want to use for the month, this is about making people where they are and being sensitive and acknowledge their own cultural beliefs around this topic. I think that’s how we have made so much headway.
RJ started its roots by being led by women of color. Women of color understood that, that it’s much larger than abortion, first of all, but also we need to incorporate our values into this work. So it’s about keeping families together, it’s about for some communities doing everything possible to avoid an abortion, right? So not leading with that.
This is about, “What can I do in my community to strengthen the capacity of young women, if that’s the case to keep their pregnancies?” If that’s the case, do I need to work with the school districts to work on programs that support young mothers? As opposed to investing so much money into pregnancy prevention. How can we build the self-esteem of young mothers, as opposed to finding ways for them to succeed in this world without having told anyone they were a teen mom.
Being very conscious about race, gender, and ethnicity allow us to meet people and deliver a message that they are going to hear as opposed to just shutting us down because we walked in with a completely different frame that is not relevant to them.
SB: Obviously the controversy surrounding implementation of the Affordable Care Act has been really prominent in recent news cycles. What are your thoughts on the ACA in relation to reproductive justice and how can people better inform themselves on these policy changes?
JRC: We support and are behind the ACA, so let’s start off with that. However, we at the same time, we need to be critical about its downfalls. Let’s not say that it’s all bad, like any policy it has its kinks in it and we need to make sure to bring those to light. We have done that with all legislation, even those that we have been behind. We understand how legislation comes about and you have to make those compromises. As a movement, we need to be sure to walk that find line of not being so happy about the ACA that we don’t call out its issues.
First off, there is a difference between California and the rest of the country. As a whole, we have a huge chunk of immigrant population that isn’t going to be covered. Here in California, there is going to be a smaller chunk that isn’t going to be covered, however there is still a portion of folks that won’t have coverage, but a lot of the people will fall into the safety nets in the state. Recently today, a report came out about who is falling through the cracks here.
The other part with the ACA is the allowance of certain businesses to call for the exemptions on what they can cover within their independent plan. As individuals and as individual women, we aren’t going to see the issue about abortion in a different bucket of money in terms of insurance polices. It’s not going to trickle down to us necessarily. For example, I’m not going to see a new line item on my policy. But the fact that the [exemptions] still exists means that abortion is still being as different. That is a purely political move.
And those types of moves are a reflection that we can still treat women’s health as separate than other types of health. Even though, we’ve made these great strides, like not making the fact that you are a woman a pre-existing condition, folding maternity into it, but then when it comes to contraception and abortion care, it’s still so politicized and it turns into these bad policies.
Loyola Marymount University, where some members of our coalition are professors there, took out abortion care on their staff. KPPC looked at it, we did some media reviews about that. We already know that students aren’t covered but they took abortion care out of their staff. They took it out quietly and they didn’t tell anyone. It’s done.
It’s a larger issue about how any time policies are made around reproductive health; you’re essentially controlling the fertility and the options for reproduction and reproductive health of those individuals. And it can be for men or for women, but it usually falls into women and females. Because that directly impacts the choices they have to make about their reproductive health. Right now a professor or staff member at Loyola has to make a decision such as, ‘if my contraception fails and I do get pregnant and I have to have a back up plan. If I do want to seek an abortion, I better have a couple clinics in mind—outside of my work.’ That’s another burden that they shouldn’t have to go through. They should be able to call their health care provider and move forward. They should be aware that if they do for forth with getting abortion care, it will not be covered in their health insurance. You might get a bill for a couple thousand dollars because you didn’t know that.
When it comes down to how women’s lives are directly affected and people ask me, ‘What drives your work and what gives you a passion behind it?’ That’s the stuff that gives me a passion—all of those policy issues they sound great on paper, they look great, they look as if they are not going to impact somebody’s life, but ultimately when you start thinking about they start impacting someone’s life, down on the ground, it gets really complicated and it can really hinder a person’s ability to take care of their health.
SB: Can you tell us about your next big projects?
JRC: One of the big projects that people should know about is the Martin Luther King Hospital here in Los Angeles. It closed its doors in 2007. MLK Hospital was a really large hospital in South LA, it has a long history about serving specifically the African-American community but also having doctors that were African-American, they had a great maternity care, they offered midwives to come and practice in the hospital, they had a great birthing center, spectacular trauma unit—a great hospital, right in the middle of South Central Los Angeles.
Around the late 90s, early 2000s, it just started to suffer the consequences of neglect from the city, county, and from the community. It closed its doors in 2007. The process to reopen started in about 2010; it’s going to be a very, very, very small hospital. It’s going to open with only 130 beds with limited services. Our campaign is to make sure that our hospital when it reopens provides comprehensive reproductive health care services. And like so many things, you can feel good about that on paper, ‘Oh yeah I’m going to offer this care.’ But again, but when it gets down to it, we want to make sure that a woman who is actually walking into those doors has the capacity to get the care that she needs. There needs to be information about the care and that there are providers who can provide her with that care.
One of the big wins of our campaign was to make sure that the operator was not a Catholic operator. It just didn’t make sense to have a Catholic operator and that community. We got that major win back in 2011, we were able to have a board be established and they are going to be the ones who are going to operate the hospital.
Next thing, we want to expand the number of maternity beds. It was original slated for eight maternity beds, we already know the high maternal mortality rate in this community, and infant mortality is four times higher than the rest of the state. And this is just for what is called SPA 6—Service Planning Area of Southern Los Angeles. And maternal morality is almost as twice as high. It’s 2013, you don’t really hear about babies not making it past year 1 and it’s four times higher in this community. If you want to do some interviews, you will encounter the reality of people’s lives. It’s like this little region in the state, in the city, that is having these disparities occur in real time. We need to make sure that the hospital responds to these disparities. That’s our main goal—we are advocating for more maternity beds, a trauma unit, a neonatal intensive care unit—these are things that the hospital is not going to have.
Great that the hospital is opening, we are happy that there is reinvestment in South LA, we want to make sure that the hospital is responding to the disparities in that community.
SB: And finally, you’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?
One food? I would take a mango tree. Hot in a dessert island? I’d want a mango, but also the whole tree. One drink? I would just want an iced tea, caffeine—an iced black caffeinated. Don’t give me none of that non-caffeinated stuff. Herbal teas? No. One feminist? I would take Charlene Ortiz—she’s based out of Colorado, she’s one of the founders of Colorado Organization for Latino Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). She’s also worked a lot with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, she’s on their board as well as done some work with Ford around Latinas and RJ. One of the founding thought-thinkers around Latinas and RJ. I would take her.
Suzanna Bobadilla wants to know where she can get a mango tree. Feminist mango iced-tea anyone?