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Empty Choices

Sistersong-

Marian Jones writes on the limits of "choice" in the fight for reproductive justice for all. She highlights what has always been missing from the prochoice movement for women of color, explains why we need a justice framework instead of one of rights, and remembers and thinks with the living legacy of the SisterSong coalition.

This piece is published as part of We Organize to Change Everything, A collaboration between acclaimed socialist feminist magazine Lux and Verso. We Organize to Change Everything examines the fight for abortion from the 1970s to the present, bringing together the voices of clinic defenders, health care providers, and the networks of feminist activists helping pregnant people obtain care from Mississippi to Mexico. Contributors consider the intimate connection of abortion rights to forced sterilization and structural racism, incarceration and criminalization, Indigenous people’s sovereignty, transgender rights, and the growing threat of a white supremacist far right. Looking outside of the US to the Americas, the collection shows how US activists can draw inspiration, lessons, and strategy from the dynamic feminist movement across Central and South America.

Most importantly, this collection describes what a fighting movement for reproductive justice could look like—one that fights for the right to parent as we wish or not parent at all, and rejects the criminalization of anyone’s body.

In 1994, prochoice organizations gathered at a conference in Chicago to hear then President Bill Clinton’s healthcare reform plan, which excluded reproductive healthcare in a bid to appease Republicans.[1] As noted in the 2004 book Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice, the proposed bill also avoided reproductive health care and “isolated reproductive rights issues from other social justice issues.” None of the proposed solutions considered how factors such as race or class affect “the decision to become a mother.” So, twelve Black women activists in attendance at the conference organized an informal caucus to address these omissions. They argued that, in addition to abortion, women of color “need health care, education, jobs, childcare, and the right to motherhood.”[2]

These women were Loretta Ross, Toni M. Bond Leonard, Reverend Alma Crawford, Evelyn S. Field, Terri James, Bisola Marignay, Cassandra McConnell, Cynthia Newbille, Elizabeth Terry, “Able” Mable Thomas, Winnette P. Willis, and Kim Youngblood.[3] To describe their politics, new organizing framework, and movement, they created the term “reproductive justice.”[4]

According to Toni M. Bond Leonard, the caucus eventually evolved into an activist group known as Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice (WADRJ).[5] WADRJ placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post and Roll Call “in support of providing all women access” to reproductive care, and held a press conference on Capitol Hill; they reissued the “We Remember” pamphlet (a 1989 booklet that linked reproductive rights to other oppressions);[6] gathered signatures from Black women in support of their new movement; and sent a letter to former President Clinton in support of Dr. Jocelyn Elders, who was fired as surgeon general in December 1994 for advocating for the decriminalization of drugs and the dissemination of contraceptives in educational institutions.[7]

These activists established the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (SisterSong) in 1997. SisterSong is comprised of sixteen organizations that are led by women of color and from a variety of racial backgrounds.[8] As stated by SisterSong, the three pillars of reproductive justice are: the right to an abortion; the right to carry children; and the right to raise children in a safe and healthy environment.[9] Together, these three pillars comprise an ambitious framework around which to mobilize women of color for both social justice and reproductive health.

Struggles for affordable housing, the abolition of prisons, anti-imperialism, and the end of environmental racism are all part of a reproductive justice agenda. So are any other intersectional fights for bodily autonomy.

This chapter looks at the reproductive justice (RJ) movement and how it relates to abortion rights in communities of color. Reproductive justice is a broad political paradigm that encompasses a wide range of social justice issues while remaining narrow enough to prevent us from losing sight of our ultimate goal of achieving true justice in society, of which abortion is only a small part. As an example, SisterSong member and Women’s Studies professor Kimala Price cites Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ) in Oakland, California. This organization’s efforts to defeat ballot measures that would have made it more difficult for women in the state to obtain reproductive health care reforms were successful due to its collaboration with other “social justice movements, such as immigrants’ rights and traditional African American civil rights groups.”[10]

In June 2019, SisterSong joined the ACLU and Planned Parenthood in suing Georgia over its six-week abortion ban. This was SisterSong’s first high-profile lawsuit, catapulting the group into the national spotlight.[11] However, the case  has been postponed until the Supreme Court rules in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to Mississippi’s fifteen-week ban.[12] In that case, the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of abortion restrictions based on pre-viability, with an official verdict expected in June.[13] Politico reported on May 2 that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority intends to rule in Mississippi’s favor, overturning the constitutional right to abortion.[14]

More than just the right to become or not become a parent without interference, the fight for reproductive justice is about providing parents and caregivers with the resources, opportunities, and access they need to live the lives they choose. The use of a justice framework rather than one based on rights is important here: rights are based on the premise that all people are equal, whereas justice emphasizes the importance of achieving equity while recognizing that different communities have different histories and redistributive needs. A nominal right means nothing to someone who lacks the money or time required to make use of it, and can be taken away as easily as it was granted. The movement’s goal is for women to regain power over their reproductive fate, which is now decided by their race, gender, and class, and by the various institutions that facilitate oppression.[15]

It is “ill-conceived,” writes Maureen Tkacik in “Abortion and the Politics of Failure,” to connect the concept of “feminism” to such a specific issue as abortion because an abortion is a singular moment in one’s life. “Kids, on the other hand, are with you forever,” she says.[16] To build a militant movement for reproductive rights, the feminist left needs reproductive justice more than ever.

Reproductive Injustices

People of color have seen their reproductive rights repeatedly violated and have been the targets of population control measures throughout history. Notable examples include the rape of Black women by white slave owners, the removal of one-third of Native children from their families and tribes under the US family separation policy,[17] the unethical testing of oral contraceptive pills on Puerto Rican women in the 1950s,[18] and the practice of offering sterilization in exchange for lower sentences in the criminal court system today.[19] Women of color continue to be harmed by eugenics policies such as sterilization abuse, nonconsensual testing, and the promotion of dangerous long-acting hormonal contraceptives.

The right-wing crusade to control the reproduction and autonomy of white and black women is based on two contradictions. First, there is white supremacy, which Lorretta Ross describes as “an interlocking system of racism, patriarchy, homophobia, ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and religious fundamentalism that creates a complex matrix of oppressions faced by people of color in the United States.” According to Ross, mass incarceration and immigration restrictions are motivated by “fears of being numerically and politically overwhelmed by people of color.”[20]

Simultaneously, the elite seek to outlaw abortion, which is one example of such a contradictory population control policy. The employing class must keep a ready supply of surplus workers on hand to diminish worker power, but since regular population booms and busts are inadequate, they tilt the scales. Jenny Brown, author of Birth Strike and Without Apology, relates Marx’s “reserve army” labor theory to reproductive control. “The presence of the ‘unemployed’ weakens all workers,” she says. “The more unemployed people there are, the less power employed workers have and the lower wages can be driven.”[21]

In addition to white supremacy and capitalism in general, progress toward reproductive justice was stymied by the lack of participation by women of color in the early birth control movement and the notion of race science that emerged in the early twentieth century. The movement’s ideological underpinnings were rooted in eugenics, according to Angela Davis’s chapter “Racism and Birth Control and Reproductive Rights” in Women, Race, and Class, which explains why the movement has a poor track record of combating racism and class exploitation.

Proponents of birth control in the early twentieth century saw abortion as a viable solution to poverty. They believed that “having fewer children” would alleviate poverty, but Davis points out that poverty can be alleviated by more good jobs, higher wages, or better educational opportunities, none of which have anything to do with birth control.

As Dorothy Roberts explains, a common argument used by eugenicists to oppose poverty alleviation efforts was that “adequate medical care, better working conditions, and minimum wages” were all harmful because they made it easier for people with lesser genes to enjoy better health and procreate.[22] Instead, eugenicists advocated the forced sterilization of anyone deemed “unfit” to bear children, notably people of color, people in prison, and those with disabilities.[23]

Margaret Sanger, a nurse who advocated birth control, founded the American Birth Control League (now Planned Parenthood) in 1921 and is regarded as the pioneer of the birth control movement. Sanger was not only a member of the Socialist Party but, according to Angela Davis, actually invented the term “birth control.”[24] Sanger’s supporters included labor activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, anarchist Emma Goldman, and Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs.[25] Sanger became more susceptible to eugenics arguments after leaving the Socialist Party to launch an independent birth control movement, partly because the party did not prioritize birth control.[26] In an editorial for the American Birth Control League’s magazine, Sanger defined birth control as “more children from the fit, less from the unfit.”[27] Sanger’s connection with eugenics has inextricably tied her cause to racial hierarchy and genocidal discourse.

For Black women in particular, the eugenics movement was a continuation of slavery. Eugenists sought control of Black reproduction, but this time through racial cleansing in order to create a better society. Roberts argues that slavery “marked Black women from the beginning as objects whose decisions about reproduction should be subject to social regulation rather than to their own will.”[28] Fannie Lou Hamer spoke out about her forced sterilization experience. Hamer was sterilized unknowingly during a cyst removal in 1961. She underwent a “Mississippi appendectomy,” a term she coined to describe the nonconsensual sterilization of women deemed “unfit.”[29]

Thirty states allowed sterilization in public institutions following the Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell in 1927.[30] Federally funded eugenics boards were established in thirty-two states by 1935 to determine whether eugenic sterilization was permitted for individuals deemed undesirable or unfit. Women were sterilized for “feeblemindedness, promiscuity, insanity, criminality, disability, and poverty.” Women of color, particularly in the South, and poor women, were more likely to be sterilized.[31]

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf, who had been subjected to nonconsensual sterilization in 1973. The District Court determined in Relf v. Weinberger that federally funded programs had sterilized between 100,000 and 150,000 impoverished people each year. In other cases, doctors threatened to withhold aid funds if a patient refused sterilization.[32]

Over 20,000 people with disabilities and/or mental illness in California were forcibly sterilized between 1909 and 1979. Latinx people in California were 59 percent more likely to be sterilized during this period. Nor is this practice a thing of the past. Between 2006 and 2010, at least 150 women in California prisons were sterilized by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation doctors. According to the women, they were coerced into doing so by prison guards.[33]

African American women were sterilized at three times the rate of white women between 1950 and 1966. By the 1970s, up to 25 percent of Native American and Indigenous women of reproductive age had been sterilized by the US Public Health Service. Over one-third of sterilized women did not understand (or were misled so as not to believe) that the tubal ligation sterilization method was permanent.[34] According to various estimates, between 60,000[35] and 70,000 individuals were sterilized in the twentieth century.[36]

In an effort to reduce population growth and unemployment in the mid-1930s, the US and Puerto Rican Commonwealth governments supported involuntary sterilization and contraceptive testing.[37] A third of Puerto Rican women between the ages of twenty and forty-nine were sterilized by 1965, often without their consent or knowledge and under coercion. An estimated one-third of the women polled in one study from 1968 had no idea that tubal ligation was permanent after it was performed.[38] In the 1970s, Puerto Rican women were more likely than any other women in the world to be sterilized.[39]

Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, a public health specialist and women’s rights activist, was a key figure in the anti-sterilization movement. She founded the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse in 1974 and its successor, the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (CARASA). In 1979, both of these committees were instrumental in developing federal sterilization guidelines.[40]

Beginning in the 1990s, two harmful long-acting hormonal contraceptive shots, Norplant and Depo-Provera, were marketed to young Black, Latinx, and Native women,[41] without first addressing the adverse effects on their communities’ health that these medications might have.[42] Norplant can cause eyesight loss, heart disease, and stroke, and more than 50,000 women have sued Norplant’s manufacturer, Wyeth-Ayerst, over the treatment’s negative health impact. Similarly, Depo-Provera may cause irregular periods, birth defects, breast cancer, and infertility, among other things.[43] As soon as these devices were given approval by the FDA, judges all across the country began deploying them in the sentencing process. Women of reproductive age convicted of possession or other felonies were commonly offered Norplant and Depo-Provera as an alternative to jail. Many states introduced legislation that would make the shot a condition of further welfare payments. In Kansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, legislatures subsidized Norplant purchases.[44]

Racist and colonialist policies have been the driving force behind the infringement of Native American civil rights and reproductive rights. The major objective of the Indian Health Service (IHS), which started providing family planning services to Native Americans in 1965, was to lower the birth rate.[45] Studies have found that the Indian Health Service sterilized 3,406 people from 1973 to 1976. Native women said that they did not want to agree to these surgeries but were forced to do so.[46] Kimala Price argues that reproductive justice is critical for Indigenous women who are concerned with abortion access but also with their community’s survival and self-determination.[47]

Eugenics and sterilization abuse are thus significant aspects of American history that should not be ignored. This is critical for feminists to comprehend because the eugenics movement had a long-lasting impact on reproductive policies and the lives of women of color.

The Problem with “Choice”

A further facet of RJ is its critique of “choice,” which is the preferred term of liberal feminists in arguing for abortion rights. Dorothy Roberts argues that a right based on individual choice is constrained and unachievable, particularly in the absence of the means and access to assert that right.[48] Dorothy Roberts, in In Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, refers to concepts like choice or freedom as “negative rights,” which mask the “presumption that the right to choose is contained entirely within the individual and not circumscribed by the material conditions of the individual’s life.”

Roberts argues that defining privacy as keeping the government out of “personal decisions” isn’t enough “to protect the dignity and autonomy of the poor and oppressed.[49] These personal decisions conceal coercion and inequality, obscuring the racist roots of population control policies that restrict the reproductive freedom of women of color. Instead, to “ensure the equal distribution of procreative resources in society,” she calls for “positive rights,” that is, true equity over false notions of freedom or liberty.[50] As Roberts points out, the “privacy doctrine” leads to “government nonintervention in the private sphere,” which makes it easier for women to be oppressed rather than giving them more autonomy.[51] Meanwhile, positive rights are those “that combine the values captured by both liberty and equality.”[52]

The case against “choice” as a framework for reproductive rights has been made most eloquently by Roberts in Dissent magazine, and it is worth quoting in full: 

The language of choice has proved useless for claiming public resources that most women need to maintain control over their bodies and their lives. Indeed, giving women “choices” has eroded the argument for state support, because women without sufficient resources are simply held responsible for making “bad” choices. The reproductive rights movement was set on this losing trajectory immediately after Roe v. Wade when mainstream organizations failed to make funding for abortion and opposition to coercive birth control policies central aspects of their agenda. There was no sustained major effort to block the Hyde Amendment, which has been attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976 and excludes most abortions from Medicaid funding. Mainstream reproductive rights organizations practically ignored the explosion of government policies in the 1990s, such as welfare “family caps” and prosecution for using drugs while pregnant, principally aimed at punishing childbearing by Black women who received public assistance.[53]

Women of color recognized early on the danger in the wording of the Roe decision. For instance, the National Council of Negro Women warned in a 1973 editorial supporting Roe v. Wade that we must exercise caution:

The keywords are “if she chooses.” Bitter experience has taught this Black woman that the administration of justice in this country is not colorblind. Black women on welfare have been forced to accept sterilization in exchange for the continuation of relief benefits, and others have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent. A young pregnant woman recently arrested for civil rights activities in North Carolina was convicted and told that her punishment would be to have a forced abortion. We must be ever vigilant that what appears on the surface to be a step forward does not in fact become yet another fetter or method of enslavement.[54]

Among other things, reproductive justice is a critique of the legal foundation of 1973’s landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which argued that choosing an abortion was part of a woman’s Fourteenth Amendment–protected right to “privacy” and so made abortion legal (again) in the United States. Following this victory, most abortion rights advocates recast their politics in terms of choice and privacy, as opposed to arguments for gender equality or universal access to reproductive healthcare. According to the editors of Undivided Rights, one of the first books to lay out a RJ framework, the term “abortion” was dropped in favor of protecting a woman’s “legal right to choose,” which sounds less political. [55]

The goal of this new prochoice movement was not to ensure that women had access to abortions, but to develop an electoral strategy to protect the negative right to abortion. Kimala Price also claims that Roe demobilized the militant second-wave feminist movement because many thought the fight for abortion was over. That is why prochoice organizations did not object when Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1977, which prohibited the use of federal funds, including Medicaid, for abortions.[56] Until Hyde, Medicaid covered one-third of all abortions, or nearly 300,000 per year.[57]

The concept of choice is even less meaningful in today’s nearly post-Roe world, where abortion access is limited state by state and will be wholly moot if Roe v. Wade is overturned. While larger social and economic structures have always limited reproductive choices like when, whether, and how to have children, middle-class white feminists may soon face similar experiences to those of poor women and women of color (although wealthy women will always have easier access to safe abortions).

Democrats and the Supreme Court

Instead of adopting a strategy more in line with women of color, such as being “pro-access” rather than “prochoice,” the movement began on shaky ground. By relying on the already precarious right to privacy legal precedent, prochoice organizations such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood have put themselves permanently on the defensive since their strategy is entirely reliant on defeating judicial challenges.

Moreover, mainstream prochoice advocates have serious problems with their electoral strategy, particularly their blind loyalty to the Democratic Party, their alignment with middle-class donors, and their inability to win elections at a critical mass.

According to journalist William Saletan, following Roe v. Wade major abortion rights organizations redefined themselves as “prochoice” organizations in an attempt to broaden their coalition beyond the feminist movement. They characterized abortion as a question of big government intervention into women’s private lives, as the Roe decision had; easily recognizable as part of a right-wing or libertarian framework opposed to “big government.” As Silliman et al. point out, starting in 1984 NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and other major prochoice groups conducted national polling to “determine what messages would be effective with conservative voters and could drive a wedge into the conservative opposition.” In other words, the opposition that prochoice groups sought to address and win over was, and still is, composed of anti-tax, anti-welfare, and anti-Black constituencies. “They could declare war on all of these constituencies in the name of a broad liberal agenda,” says Saletan of prochoice groups. “Or they could divide the coalition and isolate pro-lifers by seducing the other constituencies.” And, unfortunately for the left, “they chose the latter and put a libertarian spin on it.”[58]

According to Sam Rosenfeld and Daniel Schlozman in N+1, to win on abortion the Democratic Party needs to win elections more often and in more states. However, the party’s donors’ desires shape the party’s agenda and whom that party represents. Rosenfeld and Schlozman point to the “culturally liberal donors” whose preferences have culminated in the party’s failure to form cross-class majorities, thus making it extremely difficult to fulfill any aspect of the party’s agenda. Campaigns that focus on abortion are able to get more funding from these donors than campaigns that would aid working-class women. This means that measures that impact class-based oppression or poverty are low on the party’s agenda. To overcome this impasse, Rosenfeld and Schlozman believe the party must construct “a class-oriented feminism that folds reproductive rights into a robust maternalist and pro-worker agenda.”[59]

Much more importantly, the movement’s failure at the national level makes state legislatures even more powerful. Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, but it also allowed states the ability to restrict access to abortion in the interests of the “unborn child.”[60] New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug sought to codify Roe in 1973. She introduced the Abortion Rights Act, H.R. 254, to prohibit states from enacting additional abortion restrictions. The bill did not make it through the legislative process, and states went on to enact a significant number of additional restrictions. “And it speaks to a simple human reality that it’s much easier to try to knock something down than to defend it,” says Joshua Prager, author of The Family Roe.[61]

In 2010, the National Right to Life Committee (NLRC) produced three draft bills for Republicans in state legislatures, one of which included a twenty-week abortion ban. Only Nebraska had a twenty-week abortion ban when the NRLC began lobbying for it in 2010, but as of May 3, 2022, more than a third of states now have such a policy.[62]

As a result, abortion access in the United States has deteriorated dramatically. Between 2011 and 2017, state TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) legislation closed fifty clinics in the South and thirty-three in the Midwest, according to the Guttmacher Institute.[63] In the last two years, pandemic conditions and insufficient funding have forced the closure of forty-one clinics.[64]

Democrats will almost certainly use Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to persuade people to vote for them in the next midterm elections, but the Democratic Party is unlikely to build the supermajority it needs to override the filibuster and codify abortion rights.[65]

What’s Lacking in the Prochoice Movement

The lobbying and electoral strategies used by liberal prochoice groups have not been effective enough. Only so much can be accomplished by concentrating on the rulings of the Supreme Court and expanding constitutional rights. One example is the case of United States v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Texas abortion ban, also known as Texas SB 8. This statute bans abortion after six weeks and relies on citizen militias for enforcement.[66] It is the most draconian abortion restriction in the country (at least at the time of writing).

In the wake of this decision, reproductive justice organizations rallied to make abortion as accessible as possible. ACCESS REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE Executive Director Jessica Pinckney outlined her organization’s efforts to improve abortion access after the ruling. In a press release, the organization, which funds abortions and provides support and assistance with transportation, lodging, and child care to people seeking abortions in California, stated that “we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure people have full access to abortions and the other reproductive healthcare they need because restrictive laws do not get to determine the futures” of our people.[67]

In the days that followed Texas’s ban on abortions after six weeks, NARAL sent out a fundraising email proclaiming an intention to “donate a portion of the proceeds to an abortion fund in the state,” with the remainder of the proceeds remaining with the organization. However, the email did not specify which abortion fund would get the donation. Many complained that NARAL exploited the situation to fundraise with the intention of keeping part of the funds. NARAL then tweeted a petition to support the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), which made no reference to the local abortion funds of smaller grassroots groups.[68]

This incident reflects a long-standing tension within the movement, argues Marie Solis for Jezebel. These institutions, typically run by white women, have boards of directors and depend on millions of dollars in government grants, significant donations, and membership dues. Large national organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL lobby the White House and Congress to change abortion laws; they craft policies and sway public perception. While Planned Parenthood and NARAL may coordinate state campaigns or support for new legislation, grassroots groups perform the really necessary work.[69]

Many of the country’s abortion funds are led by women of color, as are all of the country’s reproductive justice organizations. Abortion funds and RJ organizations advocate more directly; they generally pay for travel, accommodation, and childcare, as well as the abortion itself. The volunteers who arrange this care view their role as bridging the gap between the legal right to abortion and actual access to care.[70]

In the guise of maintaining a moderate political stance, several organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, have gone so far as to oppose women’s access to birth control. For example, over-the-counter emergency contraception was a major battleground for the reproductive rights movement in the early 2000s, writer and National Women’s Liberation (NWLM) member Jenny Brown told Jezebel. NWLM lobbied the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve OTC emergency contraceptive access without any restrictions, while the National Association for Reproductive Rights (NARAL) and Planned Parenthood warned against it. According to Brown, the leaders of those organizations were concerned about the optics of fighting for adolescent access to the pill. They proposed aiming for a less lofty goal, such as making this contraceptive available in the emergency rooms of rape victims. Instead, Brown and the NWLM pursued tactics that were deemed too radical and aggressive by other large organizations. They sent the FDA a letter signed by thousands of supporters threatening to break the law and give out emergency contraception. Brown and her co-organizers found physicians willing to write prescriptions for the medications and illegally distribute them. Nine women, including Brown, were arrested at a sit-in outside the FDA’s Maryland offices. In 2013, the FDA approved OTC emergency contraception for all ages. It was only possible, Brown argues, because of the demands of radical reproductive rights activists.[71]

Conclusion

For many poor and minority women, procuring an abortion is already quite difficult. Simpson says that more than 100 antiabortion bills that limit or ban abortion have been passed in nineteen states in just the past year.[72] The loss of the constitutional right to abortion is one hurdle, but it is not the only one.

A minor can only obtain an abortion with parental consent, a court order, or an appeal. Women who are pregnant and want to have an abortion but must travel to another state must find a way to pay for their travel, lodging, and any other associated costs. It’s challenging to find an abortion doctor online due to constant abuse and harassment. Abortion is no longer taught in medical schools as part of the core curriculum. In order to comply with strict privacy regulations and avoid exposing themselves to violence, doctors who perform abortions and those who work for them try to withhold information, including treatment and pricing information, while on the phone. Many places require patients to make two appointments: one for counseling and one for surgery. According to Pamela Bridgewater Toure, no other medical procedure subjects patients to this level of difficulty, bureaucracy, opacity, violence, or intimidation.[73]

The principles underlying reproductive justice can serve as our compass while we fight for a more equitable society. If we make protecting “choice” a higher priority than the pursuit of justice, or if we focus our attention on abortion rather than on other aspects of reproductive health care, we may find ourselves left with no choices at all.

Marian Jones is a NYC-based community organizer, writer, and editor at Lux magazine.


[1] Alexis Okeowo, “Fighting for Abortion Access the South,” New Yorker, October 7, 2019.

[2] Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena Gutiérrez, Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2004, 28.

[3] Leonard Bond and Toni M. Bond, “Laying the Foundation for the Reproductive Justice Framework,” Collective Voices 4, no. 10 (Fall 2009): 11.

[4] Okeowo, “Fighting for Abortion Access the South.”

[5] Bond and Bond, “Laying the Foundation for the Reproductive Justice Framework.”

[6] Natelege Bond Whaley, “Black Women and the Right for Abortion Rights: How This Brochure Sparked the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” NBCNews.com, March 25, 2019.

[7] Bond and Bond, “Laying the Foundation for the Reproductive Justice Framework.”

[8]Abigail Abrams, “How Advocates of Reproductive Justice Stepped into the Spotlight,” Time, November 21, 2019.

[9] SisterSong, “Reproductive Justice Sister Song,” www.sistersong.net/reproductive-justice. Accessed April 17, 2022.

[11] Abrams, “How Advocates of Reproductive Justice Stepped into the Spotlight.”

[12] American Civil Liberties Union. “SisterSong v. Kemp,” ACLU, October 22, 2021.

[13] Oyez, “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” Oyez, December 1, 2021.

[15] Rachel Rebouche, “Reproducing Rights: The Intersection of Reproductive Justice and Human Rights,” UC Irvine Law Review 7, no. 3, December 1, 2017.

[16] Maureen Tkacik, “Abortion and the Politics of Failure” in False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton, ed. Liza Featherstone, London: Verso, 2016, 76.

[17] Christie Renick, “The Nation’s First Family Separation Policy,” The Imprint, October 9, 2018.

[18] Sarah Kliff, “The Secret History of Birth Control Pills,” Vox, October 23, 2014.

[19] Sanjana Manjeshwar, “America’s Forgotten History of Forced Sterilization,” Berkeley Political Review, November 4, 2020.

[20] Loretta J.Ross, “The Color of Choice: White Supremacy and Reproductive Justice,” in Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, ed. INCITE!, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2006.

[21] Jenny Brown, Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work, Oakland: PM Press, 2019, 121.

[22] Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, New York: Vintage Books, 1998, 65.

[23] National Partnership for Women & Children, “Past as Present: America’s Sordid History of Medical Reproductive Abuse and Experimentation,” Washington, DC: National Partnership for Women & Children, October 2020.

[24] Angela Y. Davis, “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights,” in Women, Race and Class, New York: Random House, 1982, 1. g

[25] Davis, “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights,” 11.

[26] Davis, “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights,” 12.

[27] Davis, “Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights,” 13.

[28] Roberts, Killing the Black Body, 23.

[29] Kidi Tafesse, “What the ‘Mississippi Appendectomy’ Says about the Regard of the State towards the Agency of Black Women’s Bodies,” Movement for Black Women’s Lives, Black Freedom Struggles Blog, May 1, 2019.

[30] Roberts, Killing the Black Body, 69.

[31] National Partnership for Women & Families, “Past as Present,” 2.

[32] Southern Poverty Law Center, “Relf v. Weinberger,” www.splcenter.org/. Accessed May 21, 2022.

[33] National Partnership for Women & Families, “Past as Present,” 2.

[35] Salas, “A Brief History of Sterilization Abuse in the U.S.”

[37]Katherine Andrews, “The Dark History of Forced Sterilization of Latina Women,” Panoramas, October 30, 2017.

[40] Krase, “History of Forced Sterilization in the United States.”

[41] INCITE!, “Dangerous Contraceptives,” https://incite-national.org/dangerous-contraceptives/. Accessed 2 May. 2022.

[42] Price, “What Is Reproductive Justice?”

[43] INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. “Dangerous Contraceptives,” INCITE!, https://incite-national.org/dangerous-contraceptives/.

[44] Price, “What Is Reproductive Justice?”

[45] Jane Lawrence, “The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women,” American Indian Quarterly 24, no. 3 (Summer 2000): 400–19.

[46] National Partnership for Women & Families, 3.

[47] Price, “What Is Reproductive Justice?”

[48] Roberts, Killing the Black Body, 6

[49] Roberts, Killing the Black Body, 309–10.

[50] Roberts, Killing the Black Body, 269.

[51] Roberts, Killing the Black Body, 296.

[52] Roberts, Killing the Black Body, 305.

[53] Dorothy Roberts, “Reproductive Justice, Not Just Rights,” Dissent (Fall 2015).

[54] Silliman et al., Undivided Rights, 11.

[55] Silliman et al., Undivided Rights, 36.

[56] Price, “What Is Reproductive Justice?”

[57] Marlene Gerber, “The Hyde Amendment: 30 Years of Violating Women’s Rights,” Center for American Progress, October 6, 2006.

[58] Silliman et al., Undivided Rights, 37.

[59] Sam Rosenfeld and Daniel Schlozman, “Did the Democrats Fuck It Up? Abortion Politics and the Long Road to Dobbs,” N+1, May 19, 2022.

[60] Kliff, “The Secret History of Birth Control Pills.”

[61] Alexandra Zayas, “How the Pro-Choice Movement Lost the Battle for Roe,” Propublica, May 3, 2022.

[62] Kliff, “The Secret History of Birth Control Pills.”

[63] Guttmacher Institute, “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) Laws,” New York: Guttmacher Institute, January 2020.

[64] Abigail Abrams, “Many Independent Abortion Clinics Are Closing, Permanently,” Time, December 2, 2020.

[66] Dan Mangan, “Texas Abortion Law: Supreme Court Allows Lawsuit to Proceed,” CNBC, December 10, 2021.

[67] Planned Parenthood, “California Future of Abortion Council Releases New Report with Recommendations to Protect & Expand Abortion Access in California,” Sacramento, CA: Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, December 8, 2021.

[68] Marie Solis, “The Limits of the Mainstream Abortion Rights Movement,” Jezebel, October 7, 2021.

[69] Solis, “Limits of the Mainstream Movement.”

[70] Solis, “Limits of the Mainstream Movement.”

[71] Solis, “Limits of the Mainstream Movement.”

[72] Monica Simpson, “To Be Pro-Choice, You Must Have the Privilege of Having Choices,” New York Times, April 11, 2022.

[73] Pamela Bridgewater, “Transforming Silence: The Personal, Political, and Pedagogical Prism of Abortion Narrative,” in Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundations, Theory, Practice, Critique, ed. Loretta J. Ross, Lynn Roberts, Erika Derkas, Whitney Peoples, and Pamela Bridgewater Toure, New York: Feminist Press, 2017, 236–8.