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.
If you’re interested in following the evolution of access to abortion and birth control under the Trump administration, then there are a lot of Twitters you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on. Here are my top 10 (in no particular order), from both sides of the aisle:
1. Planned Parenthood Action Fund (@PPact)
Planned Parenthood is a national health clinic that provides sex education, birth control, abortions, tests and treatments for sexually-transmitted diseases, Pap tests and breast exams for millions of women and men each year. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Planned Parenthood has become the poster child for Republican congresspeople’s anger.
Republicans have been trying to defund the clinic at least at the state level since the 1970s, but the campaign really became a national hot-button issue in the past couple years. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is the branch that deals with education and advocacy for women’s health and rights.
What better place to get updates on the reproductive justice movement than the institution at the center of all the controversy?
2. Susan B. Anthony List (@SBAList)
The Susan B. Anthony List is one of the most well-known organizations that lobbies for pro-life bills in Congress and works to elect pro-life candidates. According to their website, the goal of the organization is to “protect unborn children and their mothers from abortion.” They can pretty much be thought of as the polar opposite to Planned Parenthood.
As for whether Susan B. Anthony, the 1850s women’s rights icon, was actually pro-life or pro-choice has been heavily debated by American historians and journalists.
3. Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti)
Jessica Valenti is a Brooklyn-based Guardian US columnist and the author of four feminist books, most recently her memoir “Sex Object.” Valenti writes with humor, clarity and wit about feminism, reproductive rights and other pressing women’s rights issues. She also faces a lot of harassment for her viewpoints, especially on Twitter. The harassment has gotten so bad that she briefly quit Twitter in July 2016 after receiving rape and death threats targeting her 5-year-old daughter.
Valenti is important to follow in order to get the voice and perspective of a modern-day feminist journalist.
4. Pro-Life Action League (@ProLifeAction)
The Pro-Life Action League is a Chicago-based grassroots organization that recruits and trains people to protest against abortion. They organize nationwide rallies to protest celebrations of Roe v. Wade—the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that federally legalized abortion—and to advocate defunding Planned Parenthood. The league offers an important look into the recruiting styles and strategies of pro-life activists.
5. Cecile Richards (@CecileRichards)
Cecile Richards is the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She skyrocketed to feminist icon fame after she remained calm while being grilled by Congress in September 2015 about a series of videos by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress that purported to show that Planned Parenthood made money from the sale of fetal tissue. This led to a popular rally cry for pro-lifers—that Planned Parenthood “sells baby parts.” Richards vehemently denied the allegations, saying the videos were deceptively edited and was “just the most recent in a long line of discredited attacks.”
Richards’ Twitter is a great source to find not only information on Planned Parenthood, but also on recent laws passed by Congress concerning women’s health and reproductive rights.
6. Judie Brown (@Judie_Brown)
Judie Brown is president of the American Life League (ALL), which is the “largest grassroots Catholic pro-life education organization in the United States,” according to its website. ALL is as far right as it gets, believing that abortion can never be “medically necessary or morally permitted.“
Brown is an important source for new developments in pro-life activism and laws.
7. Christine Grimaldi (@chgrimaldi)
Christine Grimaldi is a federal policy reporter for Rewire News, a pro-choice website focused on issues including abortion, contraception, LGBTQ rights and sexual health. Grimaldi, who is based in Washington D.C., writers about reproductive health and justice issues in Congress, making her an invaluable source for this blog.
8. DC Abortion Fund (@DCAbortionFund)
The DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) is the only nonprofit in Washington DC that provides grants to low-income pregnant women so they can afford abortions. According to their website, the group’s vision is to “make reproductive choice a reality.” Since the organization’s very existence is tied to having abortion access, one can understand why they’d be particularly vocal on the issue—and why they’d be a good Twitter to follow.
9. ProLife Youth (@ProLifeYouth)
ProLife Youth is a organization looking to portray pro-life youth in the media. They believe that life begins at conception and that it is wrong to take away life “no matter the reason or situation,” according to the organization’s website. This organization gives voice to a relatively unheard audience in the abortion movement—pro-life youth—thus making it an important follow.
10. Alexa Garcia-Ditta (@agarciaditta)
Last but not least, we have Alexa Garcia-Ditta, a former Texas Observer reporter who now works for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. Texas has been at the center for heated debates concerning abortion access.
In 2013, the Texas state legislature passed a series of laws—known as TRAP laws or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers—that imposed heavy restrictions on abortion clinics and caused all except for a handful of clinics to close temporarily in the state. Former State Senator Wendy Davis rose to national prominence when she famously filibustered the state senate for 13 hours in an unsuccessful attempt to block the bill from passing. In June 2016, the Supreme Court struck down the TRAP laws as an unconstitutional “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion. Still, the issue is far from being resolved in the state.
As someone who both lives in Texas and works for an abortion rights organization, Garcia-Ditta will be a crucial perspective to gain insight from.