How the book community can fight for reproductive justice
Background, educational resources, and ways to get involved
[TW: abortions, reproductive justice, racism/white supremacy]
“For much of the nineteenth century, abortion was legal…As abortion was largely performed by midwives and homeopaths, the move to criminalize it coincided with a consolidation of power by doctors and medical professionals,” notes Lauren Rankin in Bodies on the Line (p12). In fact, prior to the Civil War, abortion and contraceptives were legal, with midwives caring for reproductive health—a large majority of whom were Black and/or Indigenous.
“However, in the wake of slavery’s end, skilled Black midwives represented both real competition for white men who sought to enter the practice of child delivery, and a threat to how obstetricians viewed themselves,” writes Michele Goodwin, author of Policing the Womb. “They viewed themselves as elite members of a trained profession,” so they created a smear campaign “designed for political persuasion and to achieve legal reform, [describing] Black midwives as unhygienic, barbarous, ineffective, non-scientific, dangerous, and unprofessional.”
These white supremacist methods of control are prevalent today. While the country legalized abortion back in 1973 with Roe v Wade, the case that ruled a pregnant individual’s liberty to choose to have an abortion, abortion access was by no means fair, accessible, or equitable for everyone afterwards. For example, in Summer 2021, Texas passed SB8, a law that bans abortions and financially incentivizes individuals to turn in those seeking and performing them, a law that primarily impacts individuals from historically marginalized communities. And the inequity goes beyond abortion access, beyond laws. As of 2020, the U.S. ranks 55th in the world for maternal mortality rates. For Black women, the rate is nearly ten to seventeen times worse than that of white women in some states. From the abuse of BIPOC and/or disabled women’s reproductive systems via forced sterilization, to preventing gender affirmation surgery, reproductive rights are not just about health; it’s an issue of power, control, and surveillance.
Enter reproductive justice as a countermovement. SisterSong co-founder Loretta Ross coined the term “reproductive justice” to prioritize “the leadership of marginalized communities and intentionally combine reproductive health with broader economic and social justice causes…[It] acknowledges that although individuals are guaranteed rights, they do not always have the ability to exercise them.”
When last Friday, June 24th, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, it came as no surprise due to the former president’s promise to build a Court that would overturn the ruling and because of the Court’s leaked decision. Yet that doesn’t mean any of us felt emotionally prepared to carry the news.
Read on for ways to get involved and how to support the reproductive justice movement.
What does this mean?
For years, leaders and members of various religious groups (overwhelmingly white Evangelists) have called for Roe v Wade to be overturned, and conversations around this ruling have been framed through the lens of religious freedom despite our nation claiming separation of church and state (not to mention the fact that these conversations center only a few religious mindsets; in Islam and Judaism, for example, texts permit abortion). Depending on the study, about 65-80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal (NPR says 64%, Gallup says 80%). However, SCOTUS—an unelected body that does not statistically represent the diversity of our nation—has determined that since the word “abortion” is not written into our Constitution (a document that was written in the 1700s by more individuals who did not and do not represent the diversity of our nation), access should not be protected as a freedom or on a federal level. Their decision not only goes against the will of the majority of US citizens, but opens up the Court’s ability (and likelihood) to overturn other landmark cases, such as marriage equality and contraceptive access. In the aftermath of SCOTUS’ reversal, a Texan senator even called for the Court to overturn Brown v Board of Education, which ruled segregation in public schools as unconstitutional.
To be clear, this ruling will further harm individuals from historically marginalized communities, especially Black women, working class women, and LGBTQIA2S+ individuals. For many, abortion access requires going out of state, meaning additional costs (especially for those who cannot afford childcare, days off work, etc.). It means increased security on everything from IUDs to menstrual tracking apps. It means the criminalization of someone who should have the right to determine their own future.
Note: While some of these resources use gendered language around abortions, please remember that individuals of all gender identities require reproductive justice, including abortion access.
Books to read:
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice by Marlene Gerber Fried, Elena Gutiérrez, Loretta Ross, and Jael Silliman
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource by and for Transgender Communities, Second Edition, edited by Laura Erikson-Schroth
Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundations, Theory, Practice, Critique edited by Loretta Ross, Lynn Roberts, Erika Derkas, Whitney Peoples, and Pamela Bridgewater
The Global Gag Rule and Women’s Reproductive Health: Rhetoric Versus Reality by Yana van der Meulen Rodgers
Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood by Michele Goodwin
Articles to read:
Ways to take action
We’re matching donations to the National Network of Abortion Funds, up to $500 total. Send us a receipt. Also be on the lookout for a forthcoming “book drop” from Swati of @BookSnailMail. Proceeds will be going to grassroot orgs for abortion access, and a few of us from around the book community (us included) will be matching.
During this time, it’s critical we aid grassroots organizations, especially those supporting individuals most impacted, versus larger organizations like Planned Parenthood. Additionally, if you have the means, consider making your donations routine — $5 once a month can make a huge difference for an organization, versus a one time donation of $20. We don’t want the momentum to die down, which is a lesson we can take from the many abortion rights movements in Latin America in recent years.
If you’d like to make a donation to a specific fund, The Cut has a list of them here, but please note that their article uses gendered language.
If you don’t have the means to donate at this time, there are still ways you can take action:
Volunteer at your local clinic. Bodies on the Line by Lauren Rankin highlights the necessity of clinic escorts, and right now they are critical. Additionally, housing, rides, food delivery, etc., is all needed for individuals seeking abortions out of their local area. Find your local Practical Support Organization here.
Call and write to your senators and representatives consistently, no matter what state you live in.
Although many of us feel let down by our elected officials, including ourselves, we must continue to vote and push for officials that will codify reproductive rights.
For more, Buzzfeed has a great resource bank here for ways to get involved. And if you have any other resources to share, please feel free to leave them in the comments.
This is not unprecedented. Reproductive justice has never been achieved; for years, the U.S. has been working to make abortion access more difficult.
“True reproductive justice involves not only access to affordable birth control, abortion, and health care but also providing access to those who are imprisoned, who are in immigration detention centers, who are seen as unworthy of controlling their own lives for a variety of reasons. And that’s before we get into the ways that trans, nonbinary, and intersex people are impacted by a framework that largely prioritizes the needs of cis white middle-class women,” writes Mikki Kendall in Hood Feminism (p222). Our actions must be rooted in intersectional, holistic, and deep-seated change.
We’re already here; we need a revolution.