Spotlight: VA LAN Leading the Fight for Reproductive Justice for Virginia Immigrants

Imagine being an immigrant woman in Virginia and finding out you’re pregnant. In a country that is so hostile to immigrants and women, even more so during the Trump administration, how would you move forward with little to no access to reproductive health care? 

People treat immigration and reproductive rights as two separate issues, but the two are closely connected. Undocumented residents in Virginia are denied access to reproductive health care because of their immigration status and due to fear of deportation, may not want to see a doctor. This puts the health of countless people at risk. Advocates across the state are working to make it safe for undocumented community members to get the health care they need when they need it.   

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH)’s Virginia Latina Advocacy Network (VA LAN) is leading the charge to expand access to reproductive health care for undocumented immigrants in the Commonwealth. By fighting to pass the Reproductive Health Equity Act  (RHEA) in the General Assembly, VA LAN wants to establish comprehensive coverage for the full spectrum of reproductive health services, including medical screening, family planning, abortion, and postpartum care for all Virginians, regardless of citizenship status, income, gender identity, or type of insurance. 

Below, we’ll hear from Sarah Flores Shannon, Field Coordinator for VA LAN. Shannon works tirelessly to uplift legislative priorities that reflect the unique needs of immigrants in our community.


Question: What is the general landscape of reproductive health services for immigrant community members in Virginia?

Sarah: There are a few important things to think about when we talk about who has access to reproductive health care. While Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act have expanded healthcare coverage to millions, immigrants in Virginia are largely excluded from such programs due to their immigration status. In Virginia, immigrants must wait five years before qualifying for Medicaid and undocumented folks are completely ineligible for this program. Undocumented folks have a very hard time accessing health care. Many immigrants are unable to access healthcare from clinics that require photo IDs or proof of residency upon entering the clinic. At VA LAN we have a list of health clinics where folks are able to obtain services without having to show a driver’s license. Another major factor is language barriers. Culturally responsive healthcare is another major factor. Latinas/xs may face discrimination or bias from their healthcare providers because of their identities, which leaves our community members feeling unsupported and unable to receive adequate and supportive care. We need policies that allow everyone—including those who immigrated to our country—to live and work with dignity and respect.

Question: What are some unique challenges faced by undocumented folks seeking access to reproductive health services?

Sarah: We predominantly work with the  Latina/x community. Latinas/x have one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the United States and it’s because many of us are uninsured. Pap smears and routine check-ups help to identify and diagnose cancer but if you’re uninsured, you won’t be able to obtain these medical screenings. It’s also important to note that RHEA encompasses a full spectrum of reproductive health care services, including prenatal services, routine cancer screenings, access to birth control, as well as abortion.

Question: Can you tell me more about RHEA and why it’s important?

Sarah: Our vision for reproductive justice in Virginia is a long-term plan with our community members and legislators. Healthcare is a human right that everyone deserves access to. Undocumented folks already have significant barriers to healthcare. Just like with other reproductive healthcare services, we believe that undocumented folks should have access to affordable and accessible abortion care. We know that people who seek but are denied abortions are more likely to fall into poverty than someone who is able to access the care they need. We also want to highlight the experiences of transgender and gender-nonconforming Virginians face when trying to access reproductive healthcare services that are often categorized as “women’s” health care. This includes prostate, cervical, and breast cancer screenings, regardless of gender identity, and the full range of reproductive health services.

Question: How can folks become more involved in supporting RHEA?

Sarah: You can reach out to me at  to share your story of why you support RHEA and ask your state delegate and senator to support RHEA in the upcoming legislative session!

With a progressive majority in Virginia’s General Assembly, now is the time to advance a new vision of reproductive rights to ensure that when we talk about healthcare for all, we truly mean all of us. No exceptions. We need your help in ensuring that access to reproductive health care isn’t determined by race, zip code, gender identity, or immigration status.  Please reach out to your local legislators and tell them to support RHEA.

Check out other blogs from Progress Virginia on reproductive rights: