Telling Their Stories: Puerto Rican Women and Abortion

By Jean P. Peterman | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

Women in every culture and historical period have used abortion to control their fertility ( Smith-Rosenberg 1985). Although the fact of abortion is a constant, the cultural, social and personal experience of abortion is not. This book will focus on the experiences of a particular group of women, Puerto Rican women now living in Chicago, who have at some point in their lives decided to get an abortion.

It may seem surprising that Latina women, including Puerto Rican women, have abortions at a rate one and a half times as high as non- Latinas ( Henshaw and Silverman 1988). This high abortion rate coupled with sexually conservative ethnic and religious traditions indicates a cultural contradiction within the Puerto Rican community. A Puerto Rican woman who has an abortion must resolve this contradiction in her own way.

Many Puerto Rican women believe that they must conceal an unplanned pregnancy and an abortion from family members out of respect for these family members. As Jennifer Friedman ( 1992) demonstrates in her research on teenagers, interdependence and respect for one's parents and other elders characterize Latina families. Respecting ones family for a Latina daughter means not openly disagreeing with her parents' opinions or rules of behavior. As Friedman states, "Latina daughters would rather lie about what they did, than push the boundaries of an elder " (21). She explains that the norm of respect "enables families to survive" (21) and is a source of support. Members of a minority group who are poor are far more likely than poor whites to live in racially or ethnically segregated neighborhoods with a high concentration of poor people ( Jargowsky and Bane 1990). The very fact of living in such a neighborhood, and sharing an ethnic and neighborhood culture, may affect how a woman experiences her decision to get an abortion. Additionally, Puerto Rican culture and religious traditions are examples of influences that could make the decision difficult.

A Puerto Rican woman who cannot reveal that she is pregnant may have to resolve her situation without the support of those she needs the

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