Remembering Rosie Jiménez, honoring her life through our work

On October 3, 1977, Rosaura Jiménez died in Texas of an illegal abortion, becoming the first known woman to die because of the Hyde Amendment, which eliminated federal Medicaid funding for abortion.

Congress first adopted the Hyde Amendment on September 30, 1976, but it did not go into effect until August 4, 1977. Within just two months, it had driven a woman to take desperate steps that resulted in her death.

What do we know about Rosaura Jiménez? Rosie, as she was known, was a 27 year-old Latina college student and single mother. Rosie was six months away from graduating with a teaching credential – a ticket to a better life for her and her daughter, who was just five years old at the time.

Rosie had a $700 scholarship check in her purse when she died. She went to a doctor in her hometown of McAllen, Texas to ask for an abortion, but the doctor wouldn’t provide one because Medicaid would no longer reimburse the service. So determined was she to complete her education that instead of using her scholarship money to pay for an abortion out of pocket, she crossed the border into Mexico and obtained a cheaper, illegal, and unsafe abortion there.

Within hours Rosie was bleeding, cramping, and running a fever. She spent the last seven days of her life in the hospital, slowly, painfully dying of septic shock.

The Centers for Disease Control reported in 1977 that five women sought treatment from hospitals in Texas for bleeding and infection following abortions in Mexico, including Rosie Jiménez. Three of the women had Medicaid cards in their wallets, including Rosie Jiménez. But because the Hyde Amendment had gone into effect two months earlier, they had sought illegal abortions across the border in Mexico.

Each year, the Hyde Amendment denies tens of thousands of Medicaid-eligible women access to a legal medical procedure, forcing them to scramble to come up with the money for a safe abortion, even if that means risking eviction by not paying the rent or living in the dark because they have to use money for the electricity bill. Some women never raise the money they need, and wind up carrying pregnancies to term. A few take matters into their own hands, risking their health by inducing abortion with medication or herbs – and find themselves on the wrong side of the law, arrested, jailed, and prosecuted for terminating their pregnancy.

This is why the National Network of Abortion Funds exists – to help women to carry out their decisions with dignity and in safety, and to advocate for policy changes to ensure that no other woman pays the ultimate price for trying to carry out the plan she has decided is best for her and her family.

Add your voice to the fight for justice: click here to sign the petition to repeal the Hyde Amendment!

To read other reflections on the significance of Rosie Jiménez’s death, see these essays by Marcy Bloom, Frances Kissling, and Bianca Laureano.

See also:

The History of the Hyde Amendment

The Coalition to Repeal Hyde

The Hyde Amendment at 35: lessons for activists

Harris v. McRae