With Roe on the Rocks, How Can We Best Support Reproductive Justice?
Not all organizations are created equal. Here’s how to tell which ones benefit all.
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This excerpt of Robin Marty’s Handbook for a Post-Roe America first appeared in the January 2019 issue of Parlour, our members-only newsletter. An exclusive salon where we invite guest editors to curate the discussions we’ve been having about the issues most important to us, it features special content including Q&A’s and essays (like the one below), recommended reading from around the web, plus organizations to support and ways to take action.
There is a common misconception that “reproductive rights” and “reproductive justice” are synonymous with each other and can be used interchangeably. They most definitely are not. The reproductive rights framework advocates and organizes on behalf of abortion and contraception rights. Reproductive justice, on the other hand, focuses on other equally important issues including reproductive health-care access, pregnancy and childbirth, maternal mortality, reproductive technology and assistance, and so on. The framework intentionally includes these issues but also goes far beyond just reproductive health and rights to highlight the intersections of race, class, gender, socioeconomic status, immigration status, religion, and the other intersections of women and people’s lives. Birthed by Black feminists and led by women and queer people of color, reproductive justice organizations center the voices of the marginalized, dismantling the racial and economic power structures that have kept middle- and upper-class white women in leadership roles and at the helm of activism campaigns. Reproductive justice focuses on an intersection of all human rights, while other frameworks offer a siloed, less-effective strategy that does not center those most vulnerable. According to SisterSong, one of the leading reproductive justice organizations in the nation, “Abortion access is critical, and women of color and other marginalized women also often have difficulty accessing: contraception, comprehensive sex education, STI prevention and care, alternative birth options, adequate prenatal and pregnancy care, domestic violence assistance, adequate wages to support our families, safe homes, and so much more.”
While a lot of organizations may claim to support reproductive justice, there is little to show that they are living the tenets. Now, we not only have the opportunity to change that, but we have the obligation, too. Less than 25 percent of Hispanic women and less than 4 percent of Black women voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, yet an astounding 52 percent of white women supported him—and pushed him into the White House. Our current reproductive rights national leadership remains nearly as monolithic in race, age, and geography as they have been since Roe was decided nearly 50 years ago. Losing Roe gives us the perfect foundation to start from scratch, rebuilding the movement as local, grassroots, intersectional, and focused on decentralizing power and resources and instead investing it with those who have been and will be the most affected by the policies.
Most of this handbook is filled with actions on how to give. This is the one section where instead we will discuss how to take. If we are ever going to build a truly intersectional movement concentrating on true social justice, we have to support and build up the groups that were already doing that work, but just as importantly we have to send a message to organizations and advocates that aren’t willing to apply a reproductive justice lens to the work they do.
Before you consider donating, volunteering, or otherwise working with a national organization doing work around reproductive health or rights, ask yourself these questions:
- Are there any people of color in leadership in this organization?
- Have I looked at their board? Do they have diverse members from different communities on it?
- Is there a reproductive justice group already working in this same area? Have I reached out to them first?
- Has this organization formed a coalition with other groups that center marginalized communities in their activism and leadership? If so, are they actively allowing the other groups to lead?
- Does this organization have a reputation for supporting the best practices of local organizers in a hands-off manner, instead of silencing local activists to fit the greater national message?
- Does this organization have a reputation for supporting women of color rather than co-opting their work?
If you can’t answer yes to each of these questions, simply don’t donate or volunteer, and make it clear to them exactly why you won’t. Make a pledge to refuse to work with any organization that doesn’t prioritize marginalized leadership or voices and directly addresses racism and its effects on economic and social power structures. If every person vows to only support non-profits and political groups that prioritize and elevate women and queer people of color, especially in their own communities and regions, reproductive health and rights groups will be forced to look at their own teams and campaigns and acknowledge the white privilege that has kept them in power even as the rights they claim to be dedicated to protecting eroded under their leadership.
Roe was a national decision that was immediately attacked on a state front by legislative restrictions, an attack that successfully stole abortion access from poor women and women of color years before the threat of Roe being overturned became a reality. We can no longer afford to keep taking a national approach to reproductive health or rights that continues to segregate political action and power from the communities that are the most impacted.
“National reproductive health and rights groups have created a culture of movement building placing us all on the defense, not the offense. Our work can no longer be reactive but must be strategic. Otherwise we will remain vulnerable as a conglomerate of movements and our various bases even more vulnerable, ” said Cherisse Scott, CEO and founder of SisterReach in Tennessee. “The real threat of losing Roe offers an opportunity for us to start again, and this time with women and queer people of color in every aspect of leadership, including in philanthropy, research, strategy, and movement building. ”
A list of reproductive justice groups follows, broken down by region. New groups are also being created every day, and SisterSong, SisterReach, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, and National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) are doing regionally based organizing and mobilization, which need sustained financial support to continue their important work.
Donating, volunteering and otherwise supporting reproductive justice groups is the most impactful action a person can take in a post-Roe America. These groups have been and continue to be the force doing much of the grassroots work in their communities, which have always been the hardest hit by restrictions.
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