#BlackLivesMatter, and Black Health Matters, too: Reproductive Justice

by Anna Katz, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at Duke University

This November, I had the privilege of attending the first annual Black Health Matters Conference at Harvard University.  Given my work as a NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Leader and love for all things sexual health, I was particularly looking forward to Saturday’s panel Who and How: Sexual Health Activism for Our Most Underserved Communities.  As I ponder what shape my budding career might take, I am always thrilled to hear the varying ways activists approach this critical work.  With panelists working in academic, government, and the nonprofit sector, the event promised to offer several unique perspectives on sexual and reproductive health.

But perhaps most exciting was the opportunity to attend a reproductive health event that centered and amplified the voices of four Black women leaders in the sexual health field.  Mainstream reproductive rights activism historically sidelined women of color, trans women, poor women—virtually anyone who didn’t reflect middle- and upper-class white leadership.  Frustrated with this marginalization, a group of Black women created Repro Justice Repeal Hyde Art Projecttheir own movement, coining the term “reproductive justice” in 1994.  Now a national leader in reproductive justice, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”  To ensure that these rights are universally recognized, they believe, we must analyze power systems, address intersecting oppressions, center the most marginalized, and build coalitions across issues and identities.

In doing this work, we must first contextualize sexual and reproductive health activism within a history of reproductive oppression.  Our nation has a broad and shameful history of sexual and reproductive coercion of Black folks and other communities of color, contributing to an abiding distrust of health practitioners and organizations like Planned Parenthood.  From the forced reproduction of enslaved African and African American women to the coercive sterilizations of the American Eugenics Movement, from J. Marion Sim’s surgical experimentation on enslaved women to the non-consensual extraction of Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cells, from contraceptive pill trials on Puerto Rican women to the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” folks of color have continuously been stripped of bodily autonomy, often for the purpose of “advancing” reproductive science.  The generational trauma of such violating practices cannot be minimized; as activists, we must acknowledge our nation’s ugly histories and recognize where the mainstream reproductive rights movement has failed the most vulnerable.  The panelists echoed SisterSong’s push for centering those who have been marginalized and emphasized that paying lip service to historically subjugated groups is not enough. “Activism is a doing, not a saying,” explained panelist Jill Smith, HIV/STI Project Manager at the Maryland Department of Health.

I am proud to be working with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, an organization that is committed to serving all North Carolinians and prioritizing those disproportionately impacted by harmful policies.  In an attempt to echo this commitment on Duke’s campus, I am building partnerships with groups that tend to be excluded from reproductive health conversations.  I am thrilled to be kicking off next semester with a sexual and reproductive health trivia night in collaboration with The Bridge, an online community for Black and Latina women.  Through such coalition-building, perhaps we can build an on-campus reproductive justice movement that is truly inclusive and intersectional.

Reproductive rights activism: kicking the semester off at UNC Asheville!

by Kelli Early, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at UNC Asheville

Kelli Sept blogThe Fall semester has started at UNC Asheville, and with it comes all the possibilities for my second year as a NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Organizer.  I was unable to hold any formal events for September due to sickness and attending the Advocates for Youth Urban Retreat; however, Urban Retreat gave me so much great information that I want to utilize through trainings on campus!  For example, one session was on “Trauma Informed Care” which I think would be amazing to do at UNC Asheville where so many students are organizing around racial/economic inequity that can retraumatize people who are experiencing these oppressions.  Additionally, there was a great “Reproductive Justice 101” that clearly defined the differences between reproductive justice, rights, and health work and how those differences should affect organizing strategies.  Furthermore, I got to meet Becki, the UNCW Campus Organizer for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, and she gave me great ideas for the semester, including showing the documentary No Más BebésFor the “Be Bold End Hyde” campaign, I did a closed screening of Care in Chaos for the UNCA Planned Parenthood Generation Action organization, which had 7 people attend.  I facilitated a discussion about the relationship between clinics and police in Charlotte and got the group to brainstorm some creative resistance to mass protests outside of clinics, since our Asheville Planned Parenthood clinic also experiences protests.  For the September 28th International Safe Abortion Day, I tabled outside of our cafeteria to give information on the limited access to abortion worldwide and got over 40 petition signatures for the “Be Bold, End Hyde” campaign.

At the beginning of the semester, I met with several student organizations, UNCA Out and Planned Parenthood Generation Action, to discuss the current climate of student organizing on campus.  From these meetings, I learned that UNCA has so many student organizations outside of UNCA Out that focus on queer/LGBTQIA+ issues and that bringing together the issues of reproductive rights and queer liberation were highly sought after.  Thus, for October, I’ll be working with the UNCA Out and the Trans Student Union to hold an abortion speakout that focuses on queer/People of Color stories that are on my campus and community!

Fact-Check: OTC Birth Control

In last night’s debate between Senator Kay Hagan and Speaker Thom Tillis, there was a lot of talk about birth control.  If you were listening closely, you heard something new: Speaker Tillis claimed to support increased access to birth control, and proposed to do this by making some forms of birth control available over-the-counter (OTC).

Don’t be mislead folks.  As our friends at Planned Parenthood Action Fund pointed out, “[o]pponents of women’s health are proposing to move birth control over-the-counter as a part of their larger effort to take away insurance coverage for birth control — forcing women to pay out-of-pocket instead of keeping the coverage they have today.”  The reality is that making some forms of birth control available OTC may increase access for some individuals, but birth control would become more expensive and less affordable for most women and families since most health insurance plans don’t cover OTC products without a prescription.

The lack of affordable contraception is a real problem that we encourage more lawmakers to sincerely address but making some forms of birth control available OTC is not a comprehensive solution.  A national survey from the Center for American Progress showed that in 2012 women with private insurance already paid about 50 percent of the total costs for oral contraceptives, while the typical cost of noncontraceptive drugs is only 33 percent.  The high cost of birth control has real, potentially harmful consequences. The same CAP survey found that the high cost of contraception forced many women to stop or delay using their preferred method of birth control while others were forced to depend on less effective methods because they were most affordable.  With 98% of American women using some form of birth control in their lifetimes, it’s long past due for lawmakers to recognize that birth control is basic and essential health care that should be both affordable and accessible.


Anti-Choice House Draft-Bill

Last week the Labor, Education, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee released a draft of the fiscal year 2012 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Act.  Ranking subcommittee member Representative Rosa Delauro of Connecticut issued a statement analyzing what she sees as a grave violation of fiscal responsibility.

In it, she singles out Subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) as acting on his own opinions and those of other similarly minded representatives.  According to Rep. Delauro this draft has yet to be discussed in the subcommittee.

In summary this bill would:

    • Prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood through programs such as Medicaid which provides low-income women with preventive health care, including birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, annual exams, and STI testing and treatment;
    • Eliminate funding for the Title X Family Planning Program, which provides access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other family planning services to five million low-income women each year, and through which women can avoid unintended pregnancies;
    • Ban insurance coverage of abortion in the new health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act — taking away a common insurance benefit most women currently have;
    • Prevent the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (the health care reform law passed last year by Congress), and eliminate the new benefits that include insurance coverage of women’s preventive services like mammograms, cancer screenings, and birth control with no additional co-pays;
    • Cut the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative by $64.79 million — from $ 104.79 million to $40 million — stipulating that $20 million of that money must be used for grants to provide ineffective, abstinence-only education;
    • And put in place a sweeping new refusal provision that undermines patients’ access to quality health care, effectively imposing a religious ideology test on access to essential care.

All this in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”  The United States continues to have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy of the industrialized world, as well as the maternal mortality rate of the industrialized world and one of the highest rates of infant mortality.  Lack of access to both sex education and contraception will, without any doubt, lead to an increase in unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.  This bill also cuts funding to the Center of Disease Control and restricts education reform and labor relations, making not only pregnancy and childbirth difficult to pay for, but the rest of a child’s life.

It is great to know that legislators like Rosa DeLauro have the same opinion.  Hopefully her words will stand out to other subcommittee members and the bill in its current form will not the bill that is passed.  Rep. Delauro’s final statements:

“In conclusion, the Rehberg plan fails to adequately address our nation’s needs in the midst of economic crisis, while bogging down the process with politically driven legislative riders. I cannot support this measure in its current form and am eager to engage with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress to find solutions that will make the best use of federal resources in pursuit of job creation and economic growth, as well as in support of the neediest Americans.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Hyde at 35

The Hyde Amendment turns 35 today.

The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1977 to prevent federal money, through the Medicaid program, from being used for abortion services.  It has been used as justification for restricting abortion access ever since.

Recently state and local city governments have even been restricting state and local money from being used for abortion services, especially in government employee health insurance plans.  The Affordable Care Act was nearly abandoned because of debate over inclusion of abortion services in the state exchange programs, and was only passed when such provisions were removed.  Planned Parenthoods and other family planning services have been defunded because of their association with abortion and a false connection to taxpayer money.  This past spring in the US Congress anti-choice politicians  talked at great length about not allowing abortions to be provided with federal funding and thus the need to defund Planned Parenthood, despite the Hyde Amendment already being in effect.  North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx even tried to bar federal and state money from going to state programs to teach medical students how to perform abortions.

The Hyde Amendment overwhelmingly disadvantages poor women.  It seems counter-productive to limit who can have an abortion to people who can afford it.  Anyone who cannot afford an abortion certainly cannot afford to have a healthy pregnancy or raise the child they will have.  It is equally counter-productive to cut family planning services as well.  Meanwhile, states everywhere are cutting family oriented social services like Head Start and Medicaid to reduce the budget, further disadvantaging children born into lower-income households.   The Hyde Amendment is a huge barrier for poor women seeking abortion and needs to be repealed for the health and wellbeing of poor families everywhere.

Abortion is the only moral issue where there is a conscience clause for taxpayer money.  Unfortunately, those of us who do believe in the right to abortion services can’t check a little box to send our taxes to support family planning and abortion services.  Doesn’t matter whatever else the government sends money to that we morally disagree with, like crisis pregnancy centers or abstinence-only sex education.  But there are way to get involved to repeal Hyde or to support the women disadvantaged by Hyde.

The National Network of Abortion Funds has a great petition to sign.  You can spread the word on twitter with the hastag #HydeAt35.  You can donate money to help lower-income women get the abortions they need, or you can donate to another abortion fund that exists in your city or state.  Or you can write a Letter to the Editor.