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.
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 current 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 healthcare, 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.
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 readily 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 lives. 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!