One of the major problems with what we call "the second wave women's movement" was its inability to connect with and organize women of color and poor women. Even now, as Republicans and right-wingers launch yet another barrage against women's rights which we have dubbed a "War on Women," too often opposition to that war is framed by many groups on the left as primarily focused on abortion and birth control.
Too often, the leadership and membership of national women's organizations are not inclusive of those women who will suffer the most—women of color and women who are poor.
One of the things I had to realize as a young community activist in the late 60s and early 70s was that though I was not interested in having children at the time, many women in my community were. In fact, one of the major issues Puerto Rican, Native American women and Black women were confronted with was sterilization, a population control measure which was an extension of the eugenics movement.
The poor have always been stigmatized for having children. How many times have I heard snide remarks about "those people" with "too many children"? How many women of color have been stigmatized as "unwed mothers," "baby mommas" or "female heads of households"? Having children, or more than two of them, is reserved as a privilege for the upper classes.
Not only is it deemed unacceptable to have more than two kids if you are poor, our society works to make any other choices untenable—adequate, affordable housing for low-income families is almost nil. Try to find a four or five bedroom apartment if you are not well off. Affordable day care is another barrier. Feeding a family healthy food in low income areas is almost impossible.
The whole issue of reproduction goes beyond ovaries and abortion. Yes, those are part of the picture, and women on Medicaid had to pay the price for having abortion limited first—with Hyde—and no major outcry happened at the time. Repealing Hyde still really hasn't become part of the majority left's agenda.
In activist communities of color, we understood this issue of reproductive justice as a broader one, including food, clothing, shelter, the environment, health care, jobs with decent pay and day care.
But legislators and majority women's groups did not. Instead we wound up with Welfare to Work and other programs designed to adversely affect our mothers, children and families.
While many people believe that the movement to secure reproductive control or "choice" for women centers solely on abortion rights, for many women of color abortion was not the only, or primary, focus.
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In "Abortions Under Community Control: Feminism, Nationalism, and the Politics of Reproduction among New York City's Young Lords," Jennifer Nelson examined this history. Groups influenced by the Young Lords made reproductive justice part of their agenda.
Back in 1970, Third World Gay Revolution, as part of its 13-point program and platform, declared, "We want liberation for women. We want free and safe birth control information and devices on demand. We want free 24-hour child care centers controlled by those who use them. "
Nelson's book Women of Color and the Reproductive Justice Movement expands on this history.
Jennifer Nelson tells the story of the feminist struggle for legal abortion and reproductive rights in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s through the particular contributions of women of color. She explores the relationship between second-wave feminists, who were concerned with a woman's right to choose, Black and Puerto Rican Nationalists, who were concerned that Black and Puerto Rican women have as many children as possible “for the revolution,” and women of color themselves, who negotiated between them. Contrary to popular belief, Nelson shows that women of color were able to successfully remake the mainstream women's liberation and abortion rights movements by appropriating select aspects of Black Nationalist politics—including addressing sterilization abuse, access to affordable childcare and healthcare, and ways to raise children out of poverty—for feminist discourse.
As does Dorothy Roberts' Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty.
This is a no-holds-barred response to the liberal and conservative retreat from an assertive, activist, and socially transformative civil rights agenda of recent years--using a black feminist lens and the issue of the impact of recent legislation, social policy, and welfare "reform" on black women's--especially poor black women's--control over their bodies' autonomy and their freedom to bear and raise children with respect and dignity in a society whose white mainstream is determined to demonize, even criminalize their lives. It gives its readers a cogent legal and historical argument for a radically new , and socially transformative, definition of "liberty" and "equality" for the American polity from a black feminist perspective.
The author is able to combine the most innovative and radical thinking on several fronts--racial theory, feminist, and legal--to produce a work that is at once history and political treatise. By using the history of how American law--beginning with slavery--has treated the issue of the state's right to interfere with the black woman's body, the author explosively and effectively makes the case for the legal redress to the racist implications of current policy with regards to 1) access to and coercive dispensing of birth control to poor black women 2) the criminalization of parenting by poor black women who have used drugs 3) the stigmatization and devaluation of poor black mothers under the new welfare provisions, and 4) the differential access to and disproportionate spending of social resources on the new reproductive technologies used by wealthy white couples to insure genetically related offspring.
Loretta Ross of SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Network discusses framing that allows for an "intersectional, inclusive framework," which allows women who may be uncomfortable talking about abortion to participate.
The Luz Reproductive Justice Think Tank documentary highlights young people who are currently involved in this expanded framing. It is important that what they have envisioned be passed on to young people who may be active in other progressive groups and organizations.
The Luz Reproductive Justice Think Tank is a coalition of young women and transgender people of color and their allies from a variety of social justice movements who work to incorporate reproductive justice into their activism. Working across intersecting issues, the Luz Think Tank focuses on information sharing and skills building. In its structure and approach, the Luz Think Tank strives to model equality, inclusion, and social change
…in rights for all people
…in constituent led organizing
…that the people directly affected by issues know the issues the best and have the most to gain and the least to lose
…that the structures that oppress reinforce and support each other, so by working in the intersections we can tear them down
…that there is hope on the other side of the mess
…in quality health care access and education for everyone
…that it is necessary to be inclusive to have insight into the solution and those affected
…in a world where all worlds fit
…we model the change, equality, and collaboration we want to see in the world
…I know what’s best for me
…racism and sexism are still alive and well
…poverty is violence
…we have to make the future better for youth
…people make their choices
…everyone’s voices and thoughts count and need to be out there in the world to make change in the world
…in sharing knowledge
…folks should be dedicated to others’ oppression, just not their own
…in and/both not either/or
…we do not have to choose identities
…that sex is normal, good and healthy
…that if you have knowledge, you should share it
…in expression of sexuality, sexual and gender identity
…we should put kindness in the world
…in accountability as an ally to this group, and in the world to represent voices that do not exist in other groups I am a part of
Carrying this vision forward are groups like SPARK Reproductive Justice Now in Georgia, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (now known as "Forward Together"), Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) Reproductive Justice Program, Law Students for Reproductive Justice and the National Latina Institute For Reproductive Health (NLIRH).
Reproductive justice for us all will only be achieved if we work harder bridging the gaps between social classes, "racial" and ethnic subcultures, and gender divisions.