A conversation with the daughter of the McAllen woman who was a victim of anti-abortion laws

One afternoon fifteen years ago, Monique Jimenez got a phone call from a friend who had stumbled upon some bracelets with Monique’s mother’s name. They were being sold in a magazine.

The bracelets read: “Rosie Jimenez. The Hyde Amendment. 08/05/1950-10/03/1977.”

Monique felt disbelief and anger. How could someone be profiting from her mother’s name without her even knowing about it?

Monique’s friend ended up contacting the seller who responded to Monique’s confusion by sending her a bracelet. She never further pursued the situation. It wasn’t the first nor would it be the last time Monique would come across her mother’s name or her life story being publicly discussed without her knowledge or consent.

When Monique picked up my phone call on Oct. 20, she was making the long drive between the Rio Grande Valley and Houston, Texas. Even over the whirring sounds of her SUV rushing down Highway 77, Monique’s voice was clear, lined with the confident cadence of a Texas Mexican-American woman.

Monique was born in McAllen, Texas, where she lived until she was four. After Rosie’s death, she moved to Houston, where she was raised by her grandmother. Now, as an adult, Monique divides her time between the Rio Grande Valley, which is also home to her husband’s family, and Houston.

Monique and Rosie Jimenez | Courtesy of Monique Jimenez

“If I’m in the Valley,” Monique says, “I go to the cemetery. I go four to six times a year.”

Monique’s mother, Rosie Jimenez, rests at La Piedad Cemetery in South McAllen. This year, when Monique took her mother some flowers for her birthday, she found that some had already been left there.

“It wasn’t a family member because I asked them,” Monique pointed out. She thinks the flowers were probably left by a community member who knows Rosie’s story.

For the past two years, a local group of community activists named South Texans for Reproductive Justice (STRJ) has held annual commemoration events to honor Rosie Jimenez’s life. The event, called Roses for Rosie, have also focused on the Hyde Amendment-the law that is widely seen as a major contributing factor in Rosie’s untimely death.

The Hyde Amendment, which was made law in 1976, prohibits the use of federal funds and therefore Medicaid to pay for abortion care. On Oct. 3, 1977, just weeks after the Hyde Amendment officially took effect, Rosie Jimenez died of septicemia in McAllen General Hospital.

Days before her passing, Rosie had sought abortion care from the doctor she saw regularly but was informed her Medicaid insurance would not cover the procedure. Rosie turned to a McAllen woman who was not a medical professional for help to end her pregnancy. The woman successfully ended Rosie’s pregnancy. Unfortunately, the unsanitary tools used in the illicit abortion caused Rosie to develop an infection. A few days after the procedure, Rosie succumbed in the downtown hospital building of what is today the McAllen City Hall.

Growing up, Monique always knew her mother had passed away, but she never knew how; she doesn’t recall her grandparents ever talking about Rosie.

“I didn’t ask until much later. I think I was just too young. I grew more curious as I got older,” Monique said.

It wasn’t until she was 18 years old that Monique’s aunt, Rosie’s sister, showed her the book about her mother.

“My aunt said there were things in the book that weren’t true, but she just wanted me to know someone had written a book about my mom.”

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The now out-of-print book is called Rosie: The Investigation of a Wrongful Death, published in May 1979 and authored by Ellen Frankfort and Frances Kissling. Five percent of the book’s royalties were contributed to the Rosie Jimenez Fund.

The Rosie Jimenez Fund, founded during a January 1979 meeting of feminist activists that included Gloria Steinem, subsidized the cost of abortion care for women in need for two decades before it dispersed and then later regrouped into what today is known as The Lilith Fund.

Rosie Jimenez’s death marked a turning point for 1970s pro-choice advocates both in Texas and nationally, sparking protests, a funding organization, a book, and countless articles. For Monique, of course, her mother’s story is profoundly personal.

In the 14 years before she knew the cause of her mother’s death, Monique says she didn’t think about whether or not she was pro-choice. However, once she learned her mother’s story, Monique’s ideology immediately coalesced into a staunch pro-choice stance.

“So many people have said to me, ‘do you get upset because of what your mother did?’ and I say, ‘no!’,” Monique explained firmly. “I would never be upset, how could I be? My mom did what she felt was best for her and for me.”

Monique goes on to say, “Do you think if she knew [getting an abortion outside of a clinic] would cost her life, she would have done it? No. No one would.” Monique pauses before continuing, “Of course, I wish she was here. Anyone would want their mother here.”

Today, 41 years after her mother’s death, Monique wants her mother’s story to remain known— and it is.

A group called All* Above All introduced the EACH Woman Act in 2017 to end insurance coverage bans that target abortion care. On Oct. 4, Austin City Council passed “Rosie’s Resolution,” which calls for the repeal of all such insurance coverage bans as well.

In a statement for the Rosie’s Resolution press conference, Monique praised reproductive justice activism: “For so long, I didn’t know the details of my mom’s experience. But I am proud that more than 40 years later, my mom’s story and legacy lives on in the work of abortion funds and grassroots organizations working to repeal laws that kept her and so many from accessing a safe abortion procedure.”

Monique not only supports pro-choice and reproductive justice organizations; she also worked for one. Ten years ago, she held an administrative position at a Planned Parenthood location in Texas.

At first, Monique didn’t tell her coworkers about her mother’s story. Then, Reverend Tom Davis, an author and pastor who also works for Planned Parenthood, visited the clinic she worked at. Reverend Davis did a reading from his book, as the clinic staff listened. Afterward, he and Monique chatted. It turned out Davis knew all about Rosie Jimenez’s story.

“He thanked me profusely,” Monique said. “He just couldn’t believe I was there working at Planned Parenthood. He said it was wonderful. It really amazed him.”

The story of her mother’s life and passing allows Monique to understand the stigma surrounding abortion intimately. Monique also understands that her mother’s existence embodied other taboos as well. “My mother was unmarried, and she already had a child— me,” Monique explained.

This fact only makes Monique love her mother more.

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“I always picture my mom as someone who was very free, who wasn’t so bothered by society’s expectations,” Monique proudly shared. “She wore hip huggers and halter tops and loved to wear wigs and change her hairstyle. That to me says she was a very unique person.”

Much of what Monique knows about her mother was shared with her by others, a conglomeration of what Monique describes as a puzzle built piece by piece from the recollections of friends and family. These borrowed memories form only part of Monique’s connection to her mother. The other parts, Monique feels, are embedded deep within her.

Monique and her daughter | Courtesy of Monique Jimenez

Monique has always been free-spirited and liberal, the more progressive girl in her friendship circles. She feels her mom was this way, too, perhaps born in too conservative of a region.

“Coming from a Hispanic family, my mom was very ahead of her time. My grandparents were migrant workers, so my mom was the first to go to college in her family,” Monique said. “She didn’t graduate high school, but she got her GED and started at the university. That’s a big thing to do, to have no one to look up to that went before you. She makes me believe that if you put your heart to it, you can do anything.”

That’s the deep belief that undergirds Monique’s motherhood today. Now that she is a mother in her forties, Monique has an immeasurable appreciation of how busy her mother must have been with a child, a job, and schoolwork in the 70s. When it comes to her own daughter, she said she doesn’t want to continue the cycle of silence and misinformation about sex that her grandmother perpetuated when raising her.

She knows that the dangers of this silence manifest every day. In Rosie’s case, this stigma and silence, coupled with the classist insurance coverage ban known as the Hyde Amendment that impacted low-income women the harshest, facilitated her death.

Monique recalls what she knows about the day her mother died at McAllen General Hospital. Rosie had felt ill for days before she arrived at the hospital but did not want to reveal to medical personnel that she had received an abortion from someone outside of a clinic.

“Only she would know what she was thinking at the time,” Monique said. “I think it was fear. It could’ve been fear of judgement, her family, maybe embarrassment, or fear of the unknown. I don’t know. But if she had told [hospital staff] about the abortion right away… she would probably be here.”

Rosie Jimenez’s story illustrates exactly why it is not an exaggeration to name abortion stigma, and any legislation rooted in abortion, as deadly.

Henry Hyde, the author of the Hyde Amendment, intended the law to unequivocally create a barrier to accessing abortion services. Quoted on the House floor in 1977, Hyde said: “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid bill].”

Monique Jimenez is heartened by how her mother’s story is lifted up. She feels it’s important that people know the Hyde Amendment still affects poor people of color every day.

“We’re in a different time now,” said Monique. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. It’s something so tragic and unnecessary.”

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