Final project proposal: What reproductive justice means to women of color

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A spray painted fist imposed on a female symbol adorns  a sidewalk in Paris, France. / Photo courtesy (cc) 2017 Dean Bocquet

The very phrase “reproductive justice” was coined by a group of black women in 1994 after they attended the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt—where world representatives agreed that the right to plan one’s family was critical to global development.

Following this conference, the group of black women met in Chicago to discuss how the women’s right’s movement was being led by white middle- and upper-class feminists who were often blind to the challenges faced by women of color in the reproductive rights movement.

“I’d had a number of conversations with black women’s organizations who were totally convinced that [abortion] was a white women’s issue,” Loretta Ross, co-founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, said of the 1980s in a MAKERS video.

For my final project, I would like my article and video project to analyze the different ways in which the fight to access reproductive services is more challenging for women of color than it is for white women. I would interview experts in Boston such as professors, lawyers or nonprofit workers who study the hurdles that women of color must leap over to access abortion. I would like to dive into this topic because, more than two decades after the creation of the “reproductive justice” movement by black women, the pro-abortion side often fails to highlight the unique perspectives of black women in the movement.

I reached out to Boston University law professor Khiara M. Bridges, who studies the intersection of race, class and reproductive justice, as well as Northeastern’s women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Moya Bailey, who studies race and feminism with an emphasis on how marginalized groups use digital media for social justice purposes.

For my photo story, I would like to use photographs from “No Turning Back,” a conference hosted by Northeastern’s women’s, gender and sexuality studies program on Friday that addressed the history of the abortion movement and its legal impediments.

Just from my preliminary research, I have find some shocking statistics and information about the disparities faced by women of color in regards to reproductive health. According to a 2008 study by the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate in the United States is five times higher for black women than for white women. This higher rate is largely credited to black women’s higher rates of unintended pregnancies due to limited reproductive health education and services. Because of this, black women are often targets of hatred by the anti-abortion side, who charge that they are committing genocide against their own race.

According to a study by Bridges, black women are also much more likely to die in childbirth than white women—no matter what their class is. And black motherhood has also been historically criminalized, culminating in the War on Drugs and the “crack babies” phenomenon in the 1980s, in which black female drug addicts were disproportionately locked up for crimes like child abuse and even murder for birthing alleged crack-addicted babies. Only years later would we learn that crack cocaine did not have long term effects on infants, and that the shaking that was commonly shown by “crack babies” was likely a result of the babies being born prematurely to mothers who maintained harsh lifestyles.

The black mother has so often been demonized that black feminists argue that reproductive justice includes the right to have children in addition to the right to not have children.

“It’s about abortion but it’s not just about abortion,” Ross said. “Because we are women of color that come from communities always subjected to population control schemes, we fight equally hard for the right to have our children.”

Clearly, access to reproductive health is not the same for black women as it is for white women. I would like to explore this topic further with my article and video.

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