Activists Connect Choice to Reproductive Justice #womenrights


By Molly M. Ginty

WeNews correspondent

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

As the battle to preserve reproductive freedom heats up, abortion-rights advocates are increasingly embracing the quest for “reproductive justice.” Younger activists predict 2013 will be the year “choice” fades out.

Sign says: My Body, My Choice, Reproductive Choice

 

Credit: Steve Rhodes on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–Is “reproductive justice” the magic incantation that will save Roe v. Wade?

Fans of the phrase say yes, now that mainstream abortion-rights groups have started using this term alongside (or in favor of) the word “choice.”

Via Facebook and Twitter, they predict 2013 will be the year “choice”–like the bloomers worn by Seneca Fallsactivists in the 1840s and the bellbottoms favored by Gloria Steinem in the 1970s–moves into feminist history.

Older-guard activists are not so convinced. Does the average person even know that ‘reproductive justice’ means ‘pro-choice’?” one person wrote in response to “Is ‘Pro-Choice’ Passe?”–a Feb. 4 blog post on The Nation.com by Katha Pollitt. Another activist griped, “How is that even a label? It’s not even an adjective.”

Some activists argue that “reproductive justice” should supersede “choice,” just as “LGBT” came to replace “homosexual.” Others claim choice is a better rallying cry because it is time-tested, punchy and decisive. But both sides agree the abortion-rights movement is under intense fire. Its need for fresh support is the reason some activists are pushing for new language now.

At the January 2012 West Coast Rally for Reproductive Justice, activists used both phrases in the chants they bellowed and the placards they hoisted while thronging the streets of San Francisco. And while gearing up for the 40th anniversary of (the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on Jan. 22, 1973), abortion-rights activists started using reproductive justice in addition to choice to frame their discussions and garner support.

The National Organization for Womenn and Medical Students for Choice are now using both terms freely. And on Jan. 15, Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion services in the United States, announced it was formally embracing reproductive justice, boosting the term’s popularity–and the controversy surrounding it.

‘Changing of the Guard’

 

This shift in semantics represents what Monica Raye Simpson, director of the Atlanta-based SisterSong, calls “a changing of the guard.”

Coined in the 1970s in the burgeoning feminist movement by women struggling for autonomy, choice spoke to what was then on the agenda: empowering women to have control over their own reproductive destinies. Being pro-choice came to mean supporting a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion.

Reproductive justice entered the dialogue in the 1990s, when female activists of color convened in Chicagofollowing the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt in 1994.

“We realized choice was an aspiration and not a reality for many of us, and was too narrow to speak to people without privilege,” says Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, inWashington, D.C. “We decided what we needed was reproductive justice–the removal of the structural inequalities that blocked our access to choice.”

As defined by Simpson of SisterSong (a health group for women of color that has promoted the new phrasing), reproductive justice means “the right to have a child, the right not to have a child and the right to parent your children and control your birthing and childrearing options.” This term encompasses not just the stand-alone subject of abortion, but the greater socioeconomic, political and racial context surrounding it.

“Inequality exists, and reproductive justice is meant to shine light on that,” says Nicole Clark, a health consultant in New York City.

Proponents of reproductive justice say prioritizing this concept over choice means putting the horse before the cart and ensuring that choice will indeed become a reality.

Planned Parenthood announced it was adopting reproductive justice alongside choice the same day it launched a public-awareness campaign to show “how the pro-choice and pro-life labels don’t reflect the complexity of the conversation about abortion, and the way that Americans think and talk about abortion today.”

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, told Women’s eNews, “We believe this way of framing the conversation will make it more robust and allow everyone who wants to have this conversation to find their way in.”

Expanding the Conversation

 

Just who are mainstream organizations trying to engage in conversation?

First, they are reaching out to women of color, who did not have adequate representation in the feminist movement in the 1970s and who have since then launched vibrant initiatives of their own (such as theNational Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, in New York City, and Forward Together/ Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, in Oakland, Calif.). Today, women of color represent a vital share of the broad-based women’s rights leadership.

These groups are also trying to garner support from “millennials,” born after the year 1980, who say they favor reproductive justice over choice because it is more fluid and all-encompassing.

“People in my generation say ‘I’m not a feminist, but I believe in those ideals,'” says Kelsey Warrick, 19,president of the student group Hoyas for Choice at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “They say, ‘I’m not pro-choice, but I support the right to choose.”

Also receptive to the reproductive justice label are the growing number of Americans who express ambivalence about abortion. A January 2013 NBC poll showed 70 percent of people believe \should be upheld even if they would not chose to have abortions themselves. Paradoxically, a May 2012 Gallup poll showed only 41 percent of people identify as pro-choice–a record low since polling began.

“Given the reality of 3-D sonograms and technology that pushes back the time of viability, there is growing cognitive dissonance over the issue of abortion,” says Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, an anti-choice group in Washington, D.C.

Infusing New Vitality

 

Just as it is being used to speak to a younger, more diverse and more ambivalent audience, reproductive justice is also being used to infuse new vitality into the long-embattled abortion-rights movement.

Though nearly 1-in-3 American women terminate pregnancies by age 45, their access to abortion is far from secure. Starting with the 1977 Hyde Amendment, which denies abortion-care coverage to low-income women on Medicaid, a steady barrage of anti-choice measures have slowly chipped away at Roe.

In the last two elections, Republicans–many of whom are staunchly anti-abortion–seized majority representation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the state legislatures. In 2011 and 2012, Congress considered 14 anti-choice measures, with some of the most extreme ones defeated only narrowly. State legislatures enacted a record number of such provisions (a total 135 in 2011-2012). And on March 6, Arkansas passed the earliest-term restriction in the nation, outlawing most abortions after 12 weeks.

Today, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota have just one surgical abortion clinic per state. So-called TRAP laws, which promote “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” have further undermined the protections provided by Roe. In Virginia, a new rule requires clinics to have hallways that are five feet wide–or shutter their doors.

In the past 30 years, reports New York City’s Guttmacher Institute, the number of U.S. abortion providers has dwindled 40 percent, and 87 percent of U.S. counties now have no abortion provider at all.

“We need language that motivates people,” says Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, inWashington, D.C. “We need to get them to stand up and defend women’s rights.”

In a New York City theater lobby, surrounded by women’s rights advocates before a production of her play, “Words of Choice,” feminist writer Cindy Cooper furrowed her brow, then shrugged.

“I’m working with activists from all over the globe, and they’re using reproductive justice more and more while simultaneously using choice,” she said. “But the semantics don’t matter much to me. What matters to me is what works.”

Molly M. Ginty (http://mollymaureenginty.wordpress.com/) is an award-winning reporter who covers the environment and health for Women’s eNews.

Beyond Abortion: Roe v. Wade and the Right to Privacy #womenrights


January 24, 2013 http://feministsforchoice.com

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wadedecision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

Today’s guest post is by Emily Martin, Vice-President and General CounselNational Women’s Law Center; and Cortelyou Kenney, a Fellow at the Center.

What most people know about Roe v. Wade is that it is the landmark decision establishing a woman’s right to end a pregnancy. What is less well known is that the decision strengthened the legal foundation on which other protections are based as well. In Roe, the Supreme Court solidified the “right to privacy” as part of the liberty protections under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. This protection of liberty and privacy is responsible for certain fundamental guarantees—including the rights to obtain birth control and to procreate, to marry, to develop family relationships, to rear one’s children, and to create intimate relationships. While the concept of a constitutional “right to privacy” predates RoeRoe is an important affirmation of and foundation for these rights—rights that could be threatened if it were overturned.

Roe reaffirmed the right to obtain birth control and to procreate, and subsequent cases rely on Roe to bolster this right. For example, a 1977 case relied on Roe to invalidate a ban on distribution of nonprescription birth control to adults by anyone other than a pharmacist and a blanket prohibition on sales or distribution of contraceptives to individuals under 16.

 

Roe also helped solidify the right to marry first acknowledged by Loving v. Virginia, which found laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional. For example, a 1978 decision upheld the right of single parents obligated to pay child support to marry without first obtaining the permission of a judge, based in part onRoe.

The Supreme Court has also relied on Roe to hold that the state cannot interfere in family life. For example,the Court overturned a zoning ordinance that blocked a grandmother from living with her grandson, explaining that Roe “acknowledged a ‘private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.’”

The right of privacy also protects parents’ ability to raise their children as they see fit. The Supreme Court has relied on Roe as support for the proposition that “[a] person’s decision whether to bear a child and a parent’s decision concerning the manner in which his child is to be educated may fairly be characterized as exercises of familial rights and responsibilities” protected by the Constitution.

Finally, Roe profoundly influenced the right to form intimate relationships and the corresponding right for adults, including gays and lesbians, to engage in consensual sexual relations in private. These rights were first recognized in a 2003 case that proclaimed “Roe recognized the right of a woman to make certain fundamental decisions affecting her destiny and confirmed . . . the protection of liberty . . . has a substantive dimension of fundamental significance in defining the rights of the person,” such as autonomy in intimate relationships.

Were Roe overturned, it could have ripple effects well beyond the right to an abortion. As privacy cases have recognized, “our laws and tradition afford constitutional protection to personal decisions relating,” among other things, “to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing” and intimacy. The right to privacy, strengthened by Roe, supports each of these. Overturning Roe could thus erode the ability of individuals to make highly personal decisions free from intrusive government regulations.

 

Roe At 39: Celebrate Roe by Taking Action to Ensure Abortion Is Both Legal and Accessible



January 22, 2012, marks the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court decision that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion, if she so chooses. Reflecting on the anniversary of this landmark case, I am reminded of an interview with a woman from Florida who struggled to pay out-of-pocket for her abortion. When asked what she thought about the fact that Medicaid would not cover her care she said, “I wish women had a right [to Medicaid coverage of abortion]…. I think women should have that option…. There’s a lot of things to having a right to choose.”

One obstacle standing in the way of women’s right to have an abortion is the Hyde Amendment. Passed in 1976, the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion except when a woman is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or when her pregnancy endangers her life. States have the option of using their own funds to cover abortion in broader circumstances, but few do.

Ibis Reproductive Health has conducted several research studies that evaluate how restrictions on public funding for abortion affect women. Our researchshows that women consistently encounter problems enrolling in Medicaid, trying to use Medicaid to cover qualifying abortion care, and finding a local health care provider that accepts Medicaid. We have also found that women have difficulty accessing accurate information about Medicaid coverage of abortion and that Medicaid staff frequently discourage women from seeking abortion coverage. Because of these difficulties, women are forced to raise their own money for care. They borrow money from friends and family, take out payday loans, delay bill payments, pawn jewelry, and take other drastic measures. This scramble to obtain funding can lead to delays in obtaining timely care or prevent women from obtaining an abortion altogether.

The fight to restore public funding for abortion has been going on for over 35 years. In that time, women’s health advocates and abortion providers have endured an onslaught of policies aimed at restricting women’s abilities to access abortion. But they have also become adept at removing some of the obstacles in women’s paths. Our research shows that through a range of advocacy, policy, and practice-based strategies, women’s health advocates and abortion providers have developed a number of ways to ensure that eligible women secure timely access to Medicaid coverage of abortion.

We compiled these strategies in the Take Action series – a set of guides that outline actions thatadvocates and abortion providers can take to help expand women’s access to Medicaid coverage of abortion. The guides also highlight the real-life experiences of women and abortion providers trying to navigate the Medicaid system. In the coming months, Ibis will release two additional Take Action guides for women and policymakers.

It is our hope that documentation of the devastating impact of the Hyde Amendment, as well as evidenced-based strategies for improving the Medicaid system from the ground up, will help ensure that abortion is not only legal, but accessible to all women regardless of their income.

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