Reproductive Justice Week at UNC Wilmington!

by Becki Fernandez, 2017 Campus Leader at UNC Wilmington

This November, I organized and implemented a week of programming surrounding the theme of reproductive justice as part of my position with the NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Leader program, aptly called “Reproductive Justice Week.”  I have been organizing for years with the UNCW Feminist Student Alliance around several feminist, social justice issues, but this was the first time that I organized a full week of programs coinciding with a week of awareness.

Becki RJ Week 1

The climate surrounding talking about reproductive justice in Wilmington, NC, is an interesting one, particularly around the subject of abortion.  I have noticed during my time in Wilmington that abortion rights is one of the few angles of modern, progressive social justice that the community has some trouble rallying around.  Just look at what we saw happening with the Democratic Party this year with the debate surrounding a litmus test on support of abortion rights.  In Wilmington, we have more fake clinic crisis pregnancy centers than actual medical clinics that offer abortion services. In fact, our one clinic that does offer abortion services can only bring in an abortion provider 4 times a month.  I am genuinely fearful of wearing any of my pro-abortion t-shirts in public here because of how antagonistic the community seems to be.  I know that I am far from the only person in Wilmington, NC, that is passionate about abortion rights and reproductive justice.  But, I am still aware that the community has a sizable, adamantly anti-choice community that will protest along the sides of busy roads and intersections to try and deny people access to their constitutional right to an abortion.  So at the very least, I set out to get a conversation started on abortion rights in southeastern North Carolina.

I also wanted to try and focus on a few reproductive justice issues that go beyond abortion rights. While abortion rights are an important battle in the reproductive justice framework, they are not the only pressing issue in today’s world.  The right to have children is also an important reproductive right, and the right to parent and raise these children in safe communities is also an important reproductive right.  Essentially, the right for you and your possible family to exist and live healthy, dignified lives regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, immigration status, ability, income, or any aspect of your identity is the ultimate reproductive right that should always be fought for.

I started off my week of action with a “How to Get an Abortion in North Carolina” toolkit presentation with Carolina Abortion Fund.  The presentation was very informative and went well.  Representatives from Carolina Abortion Fund came in and talked about the Becki RJ Week 2current state of abortion rights and access in North Carolina.  I am sure this is not exactly news for anyone reading anything off of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina’s website, but the current state of abortion rights and access in North Carolina is pretty grim.  So “Reproductive Justice Week” might not have started off on a happy note, but it definitely started on a call-to-action to help provide abortion funds, at the very least, to people in need in North Carolina.

The next event of Reproductive Justice Week was a discussion on LGBTQIA reproductive health and rights hosted with a fellow student organization on campus, Pride.  I felt it was dire to include a program about queer reproductive health because as many folks doing this work are aware of already, the reproductive rights of the LGBTQIA community is oftentimes left out of the reproductive rights narrative even though these rights are just as important.  Cisgender, heterosexual individuals are not the only individuals in need of abortion access.  Furthermore, LGBTQIA folk face larger disparities than some of their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts in finding access to general and reproductive Queer Trans Repro Justicehealthcare, which goes far beyond abortion rights.  Not to mention the struggles LGBTQIA parents face in fighting for their basic right to parent, on top of fighting for basic rights to employment, housing, and freedom from violence and discrimination.  During our discussion, we made sure to touch on many of these issues, as well as take audience feedback on LGBTQIA reproductive justice issues that are important to them.

Next, we hosted a small lunch and chat with representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina where we also talked about the current state of reproductive rights in NC, with a focus on fake clinic crisis pregnancy centers and all the legislative barriers that have been created for people trying to seek out an abortion in NC.  The discussion was vibrant, lively, and had great involvement from UNCW faculty and staff.Becki RJ Week 3

Our next event of Reproductive Justice Week was a screening of the documentary No Más Bebés.  This is a documentary about a group of immigrant women in Los Angeles suing county doctors, the state of California, and the U.S. government for coercing and at times even tricking these young, immigrant mothers into getting their tubes tied and becoming sterilized.  This was one of the most powerful events of the week of action for me, personally, as a Latina and child of immigrants.  I have witnessed firsthand what it is like for non-Latinx people to think your family is dirty because it is large and Latinx.  It was a profound, impactful documentary that was also deeply resonating.  The film also serves as a reminder to the reproductive justice community that this is a movement founded for and by women of color, and the specific needs of people of color that are found in the intersections of the reproductive justice framework need to be prioritized because they are the needs that have been constantly looked over for most of the reproductive rights movement.  The bodies of people of color have been used for centuries for experiments and torture to advance the reproductive rights narrative and that must be recognized in order for us to move forward.

After that, I, along with the Feminist Student Alliance, hosted a discussion on the Hyde Amendment and why it is our duty to support low-income folks’ access to abortion care.  A lot of people in the room for this event were not even aware of the current implications of the Hyde Amendment, which is great in a sense because I feel the entire purpose of holding events like these are to educate people who do not know as much about these issues as I might, as opposed to preaching to a choir of established reproductive rights activists.  The Hyde Amendment infamously prohibits federal funding from covering abortion.  This means that low-income people who may be relying on Medicaid/Medicare for healthcare coverage cannot use this coverage for abortion services unless they live in a state that explicitly allows it.  Making abortion care only Becki RJ Week 4readily available to people with middle and upper class incomes goes against the whole point of legal and safe access to abortion.  Access to abortion has to be affordable, too, in order for it to be a genuine right.  Sadly, this does not stop legislators from slashing funding for abortion care left and right, and there are even a few people who say they are “pro-choice” who agree that federal funding should not go towards abortion.  However, abortion is healthcare, plain and simple.  Placing insurance bans against covering the costs of abortion care should not be the one facet of healthcare that we won’t fight to gain coverage for.

Our last event of “Reproductive Justice Week” was “Storytelling as Activism” with Collective Sex and Shout Your Abortion.  Activists Poppy and Amelia shared their own personal abortion stories and emphasized how important storytelling is in activism.  Storytelling is what breaks barriers and stigma because it goes beyond the 24-hour news pundits, beyond the internet thinkpieces, beyond the debates on legislation.  Storytelling shows how even the most stigmatized of social issues affects real people and their real Becki RJ Week 5lives.  And that is just what Poppy and Amelia did with their presentation.  The entire room of people was deeply moved by what these two abortion storytelling activists had to say.  Additionally, I think it is safe to say that not just through the entire week of events but with this program in particular, I started an honest conversation about abortion in my community which is exactly what I set out to do.

Overall, I was impressed with the outcome of my “Reproductive Justice Week.”  Despite a few concerns of ours, no one came out to harass me, members of my student organization, or any of the presenters I had visiting during the week of programming.  Furthermore, we had great attendance from Wilmington community members, which is fantastic considering all the events happened on UNCW’s campus.  In this day and age, discussions about reproductive justice can be exhausting and tiring.  It is definitely an uphill battle to fight for these rights and have our voices be heard.  Nevertheless, we cannot stop until all of our rights are guaranteed!

#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.

NARAL NC Discusses Implications and Impact of Hobby Lobby on Duke Law Panel

Last Tuesday, academics and advocates discussed the implications for reproductive rights and religious freedoms after the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision at Duke University Law School. The event was co-sponsored and organized by the Women Law Students Association (WLSA), the American Constitution Society (ACS), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and funded by the Duke Bar Association (DBA).

On June 30, 2014 the Supreme Court issued a decision in the Hobby Lobby case. It held that closely held, for-profit companies with religious objections to following the federal health care law’s requirement to provide coverage for birth control in their employee health plan do not have to do so because they are protected by a federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Katie Karges, from the Duke Women's Law Student's Association, introduces the panelist and moderator Duke Law Professor Katherine Bartlett.

Katie Karges, from the Duke Women’s Law Student’s Association, introduces the panelist and moderator Duke Law Professor Katherine Bartlett.

Judy Waxman, Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights at National Women’s Law Center, stressed that the number one issue issue at stake in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision is women’s health. Waxman explained that this decision has severe economic impacts for women. She noted that the cost of many of the contraception methods excluded by Hobby Lobby are some of the most effective and for workers earning the minimum wage, are close to a month’s full-time pay. She added that this decision allows a boss’s religion to trump an employee’s.

Stating that half of the pregnancies in the United States are unintended and that 99% of women will use some form of birth control in their lifetime, Kristine Kippins of the Federal Policy Counsel Center for Reproductive Rights used statistics to convey her message that the economic benefit of no-cost contraception on a woman’s life is great. Notably, Kippins stated that “religious liberty is supposed to be a shield not a sword.”

Suzanne Buckley, NARAL NC‘s Executive Director added that this decision is about discrimination against women, the burden of which will be felt most heavily by poor women, women of color,  hourly wage workers at corporations like Hobby Lobby, and women and families who are already struggling to make ends meet. She noted that 648,000 NC women are in need of publicly funded contraceptive services, and over 600,000 lack health insurance coverage. The vast majority of women that already lack insurance are women of color—51.5% of Hispanic women and 25.6% of black women in NC are uninsured.  Buckley emphasized that the ability to decide when, how, if and with whom to make a family is critical to women’s health and well-being and our economic security.  She stated that access to affordable contraception is critical to women’s ability to manage our future, and the families we already have.  She added, “The Hobby Lobby decision takes birth control out of the hands of women who need it—and may not be able to get it otherwise.”

Buckley also explained that North Carolina has a “contraceptive equity” law that requires insurance plans in NC to cover contraception. North Carolina’s contraceptive equity law is a separate legal requirement on insurance plans in NC that is not impacted by the Hobby Lobby decision. While NC’s contraceptive equity law (N.C. G.S. § 58-3-178) will remain in effect, NC’s law does not provide no-cost contraceptive coverage and does not cover employees of self-funded or self-insured companies.

Jessica Waters, the Associate Dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University, noted many implications of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Waters noted how our justice system conflates gender and morality, but stressed how Hobby Lobby attacks women.

Jed Purdy, a Duke Law Professor, asked the audience to ponder whose freedom of religion should count: a corporation or an employee? Purdy questioned the definition of reproductive freedom: does reproductive freedom mean the right to choose, or does reproductive freedom require access and financial ability to make and follow through with a choice? Purdy stressed how the Hobby Lobby decision adds to the economic and social power of corporations.

Looking forward, the North Carolina General Assembly could try to amend NC’s contraceptive equity law to broaden the exceptions and allow certain for-profit corporations, all corporations, or any entity with a religious objection to get out of complying with the law. The NC General Assembly will also likely consider attempting to pass a state RFRA, thereby creating a state version of the Hobby Lobby decision.

It’s more important than ever that we vote to elect candidates that share out values, like access to affordable birth control and protecting North Carolina women and families.

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.

 

Do you remember the campaign promise McCrory made to North Carolinians?

On October 24, 2012, candidate Pat McCrory was asked “If you are elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?” He responded, “None.” McCrory’s promise was clear. If elected governor, he would not restrict access to abortion care.

Then, on July 30, 2013, Governor McCrory signed the now infamous “Motorcycle Abortion” bill into law breaking that promise.

Close to half of all North Carolinians don’t know that Gov. McCrory broke his promise. We have to fix that and we need your help to do it.  

Will you share this image on Facebook to help us spread the word?