#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.

Environmentalism & Feminism: The Undeniable Link Between Environmental Rights & Women’s Rights

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By Leah Block, first-year student at North Carolina State University

People look at me funny when I say I’m trying to find a career that incorporates both environmentalism and women’s rights. To me, the connection has always been so clear; if women are empowered, the environment will thrive. For one, the world-wide annual carbon footprint now averages 4 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per person per year, and the average annual carbon footprint in industrialized nations is a whopping 11 tons of CO2 per person per year . Women play a key role in population control, and therefore a key role in the mitigation of these statistics.

There are many ways to go about women’s empowerment, but when it comes to climate change, the most important step is giving women proper access to education. When girls go to school, not only do they learn about family planning skills, they are also far more likely to go into the working world. This puts off child-bearing for a number of years, and lowers the average size of families.

Another important step in the empowerment of women is one that’s a little more complicated due to cultural differences and expenses. Ensuring access to reproductive health – that is, access to birth control, contraceptives, and abortion care – is critical in reducing the average family size. In some developing countries, the average family includes 6 to 8 children. If we look at our average carbon footprint per person, 4 tons of CO2 per year, a family of 8 would produce 32 tons of CO2 per year. This astonishingly high statistic could be prevented simply by assuring that women in developing countries have access to condoms, birth control pills, or IUDs. Certain organizations such as Ipas work to ensure that women in developing countries have these rights, which is a great step towards a more stable environment for us all. 

A less discussed factor on this topic is the fact that women are responsible for most of the global farm work. In general, food production can be sustainable; unfortunately, food production in both developed and developing countries tends to be on the unsustainable side. A good example of poor agricultural practice is the deforestation of humid and semi-humid tropical rainforests, which are the world’s largest biomass reservoir. In fact, rainforests absorb about 8.8 billion tonnes of CO2 every year, making them a crucial component to Earth’s well-being. Farmers, many of them being women, clear-cut these forests to make room for new crops and pastures after “using up” land; that is, after depleting the soil of its nutrients. Going into countries where unsustainable practices are happening and reaching out to the women who manage food production is vital to the reduction of CO2 emissions, and therefore mitigating the effects of global climate change. Some sustainable tactics to teach these women include crop rotation, cover crops, soil enrichment, and Biointensive Integrated Pest Management.

Undoubtedly, when women receive proper care, the Earth receives proper care. The people who do not see an overlap between women’s rights and the well-being of Earth need to look a little closer. I am confident that I will create a career for myself which involves my two passions and betters the world in the long-run.


 

This post is part of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina’s Student Perspectives on Reproductive Justice blog series. To write a post for the series, please contact our Advocacy & Organizing Manager at Sarah@ProChoiceNC.org.

Let’s Make Roe a Reality for All

By Suzanne Buckley

Today is the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the Court established that the constitutional right to privacy encompasses the right to choose whether to end a pregnancy. Each year around the anniversary of the Roe, we reflect on how the decision dramatically bolstered women’s health and dignity. But too often we overlook the reality that the legal “right” to abortion care is meaningless if it’s been restricted to the point that it’s out of reach.

At NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, we believe that wherever we live, however much we make, each of us must be able to make our own decisions about pregnancy and parenting. When we support and respect that reproductive health decisions are ours to make, we are all stronger. Instead of restricting reproductive health care – including abortion care – we need solutions to improve all aspects of our health. But across the country and closer to home, politicians are creating new barriers that often make abortion services unaffordable or unavailable.

Politicians in our state have used bans on abortion coverage, waiting periods, medically inaccurate scripts, and medically unnecessary laws to make abortion harder to access, and more expensive. The reality is that these regulations do nothing to make abortion safer or help a woman with her decision—they only serve to make accessing abortion care and other basic reproductive health care services more costly and difficult for the most vulnerable in our state.

For too many women and families in our state, Roe simply is not a reality.

Roe is not a reality for many working families and those struggling to make ends meet. In 2013, Governor McCrory signed into law a bill banning state and municipal governments from offering abortion care coverage to their employees, denying comprehensive reproductive health care coverage to over 367,000 women and families. The governor also signed into law a bill banning abortion coverage in health plans offered through the insurance exchanges. Added to these new laws are those already on the books, eliminating the state abortion fund and only allowing state funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.

Roe is not a reality for the fifty-seven percent of North Carolinians who live in the 90% of counties in our state with no abortion care provider. Nor is Roe a reality for the thousands of rural women who live in the Western part of our state, who now have to cross state lines or travel hundreds of miles to the nearest abortion clinic. For too many North Carolinians, their personal reproductive health care decisions are limited by their ability to travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, make multiple visits to a doctor, and find child care.

We must make Roe a reality for all. It’s time to secure reproductive justice for all and to stop the terrible inequities that restrict reproductive health options, including abortion care. Instead of limiting reproductive health care options, we need solutions that improve health and improve a woman’s ability to make the best reproductive health decisions for her circumstances, such as lifting bans on abortion coverage for low-income women and expanding access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

There is no doubt we will continue to face challenges this year just to hold the line in the state policy debate when it comes to reproductive health, rights and justice. But we believe there has also never been a better time to change the conversation about abortion, access to health care, paid family leave, and other reproductive justice issues. Instead of allowing the conversation to be dragged to the right by our anti-choice legislature, we must start a new conversation to once again spark imaginations about building strong communities through policies that empower individuals to make the health decisions best for them. Indeed, this conversation already has started in crowds at Moral Monday rallies, on campuses across the state, and among the young leaders who gathered at NARAL Pro-Choice NC, El Pueblo, YES! and SisterSong’s Reproductive Justice Youth Summit last summer.

The bottom line: If the guarantee of Roe v. Wade is to ever have real meaning for all the women of North Carolina, we must continue to lift our voices and speak out in support of our vision for reproductive health, rights and justice in our state.

Suzanne Buckley is the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice NC. Follow her on Twitter: @Hsbuckles

ASU Senior Reflects: 42 Years of Roe, Legality ≠ Access

By Maddie Majerus, Former NARAL Pro-Choice NC Intern and Appalachian State University Senior

Tomorrow marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court decision that protects a person’s right to reproductive choice. Deciding when to start a family is one of the most fundamental elements to a person’s autonomy and plays a hugely significant role in shaping the future of their life. I have only ever known a post-Roe society, but just because abortions are legal does not mean they are easily accessible for people in our state who need one.

The debate boils down to legality versus access. Yes, getting an abortion is completely legal in our state and in our country, but our politicians continue to place unnecessary restrictions on abortion, making it complicated for people to get one. Medically unnecessary laws, such as ones that dictate the width of door frames in clinics or that demand a person seeking an abortion receive counseling aimed to discourage them from getting an abortion, do not serve to benefit and support the people seeking abortions; they serve as obstacles for people trying to obtain a legal medical procedure. Many people live hours away from abortion clinics, making it hard or impossible for someone who does not have access to a car, or someone who cannot afford to take a lot of time off work, to travel to a clinic. Imagine if every time you went to the dentist or needed to go to the hospital, you were looking at a six hour round trip. Would you feel as though you had access to that medical care?

On top of that, trying to find a real abortion clinic in North Carolina is tricky. Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC) outnumber abortion clinics in our state 8 to 1. CPCs present themselves as medical centers in the hopes of getting people who are looking for abortions in their doors so that they may try to discourage them from getting an abortion. Most do not disclose that they are not medical centers, or that they do not provide abortions. CPCs use tactics, such as telling a pregnant person they are not as far along in their pregnancy as they actually are, making the person think they have more time to make a decision or get money together for an abortion, in an attempt to “run out the clock” on the state’s law on the week limit to which you can get an abortion. CPCs use words and language on their website so that if someone looks up words like “abortion, pregnant, abortion clinic” on an internet search engine, a CPC’s website will pop up, even though they do not offer abortion services or referrals. CPCS misrepresent themselves, and they know it. The Executive Director of my local CPC came to speak at one of my college classes last semester, and he told us, “If you walk into our Center, you’re never going to know we’re a Christian organization, and that’s on purpose.”

Maddie HeadshotI go to school at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and the CPC mentioned above is less than a mile from our campus. This CPC has billboards throughout Boone, banners on the sides of the buses that provide transportation for a majority of ASU students, and even “free pregnancy test” coupons in a coupon booklet put in every student’s on-campus PO box. None of these ads disclose that they are not a medical facility, that they do not perform abortions, or that they do not give abortion referrals. ASU Health Services, which I have used for years and consider to be an excellent establishment, provides zero information on abortions on their website, no materials regarding abortion in their lobby, and when I called asking for information regarding abortion referral, they sent me to the CPC.

This is unacceptable. I should be able to seek healthcare information without worrying about my provider’s ulterior motives. I should be able to access all reproductive choice options without planning a road trip and taking significant time off from work and school. Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision, but our fight for reproductive justice is far from over.

If you are concerned about deceptive advertising on campus that misleads students into believing CPCs offer comprehensive reproductive health care please sign NARAL NC’s petition: bit.ly/StopCPCAds