Roe vs. Wade at 40
This piece was written as part of NARAL’s Blog for Choice Day.
40 years ago the right of a woman to receive a medical abortion administered in a safe, secure, and clean environment was granted by the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Since then, only the women who have been able to afford to exercise this right have been able to have abortions.
Shortly after abortion became legal, a group of mostly African American women gathered to talk about how the right to Choice was a limiting discussion because it only covered the legal right to obtain an abortion. The discussion wasn’t involving the stories of all the women who were told they could get an abortion, but only if they agreed to tubal ligation or hysterectomy. The discussion wasn’t involving the stories of women who wanted to keep their child but couldn’t because they couldn’t afford to. The discussion wasn’t involving the women who wanted an abortion but couldn’t afford one, women who became mothers against their will and if they were women of color weren’t able to find adoption centers willing to find homes for those unwanted children.
This is a very loose explanation of what reproductive justice was all about. This Wikipedia entry explains it all in much greater detail and in a national framework. I suggest reading it if you didn’t realize there was a difference between the Reproductive Rights movement and the Reproductive Justice movement.
Many people, myself included, criticize many of the national organizations that work toward reproductive rights because they exclude the (I believe) very important aspects of the reproductive justice movement. And because the reproductive justice movement is seen as a movement for women of color, this means that the stories, the needs, the involvement of women of color is missing at a national level.
But being a feminist and criticizing the reproductive rights movement is dangerous territory. It puts you into a position of defending your right to criticize the organizations and the movement you believe in. I believe that reproductive rights are important. Without the work of these women, the lives of millions of women would be very different today. However, these goals are not the only goals we should be fighting for. I think focusing on only rights is limiting. I feel that it treats women like a womb (which is what we criticize the anti-choice groups of doing) instead of as a whole being. And I firmly believe that the Reproductive Justice movement treats women as a whole.
This great article by Dani McClain for Ebony.com not only explains why women of color are so rarely seen telling their stories, but it talks about the Chicago Abortion Fund and describes how the Executive Director Gaylon Alcaraz works tirelessly to not only provide the much-needed funds to women in Chicago who are unable to afford an abortion on their own. But it also describes some of the ways that she has taken this small organization and raised their activity to support the lives of their clients, not just a single need they may possess. I’ve had the honor (and I do believe it is an honor) to meet a few of the women working on their Advisory Board and these women have impressed me. Not only are they passionate about what they share, not only are they wise about the needs of their community, but they are warm and genuine and open to sharing their personal story with the hope that it makes others feel welcome. That isn’t an easy thing to do. For anyone. The Chicago Abortion Fund may be a non-profit organization. And technically they may offer a form of charity to the women who come seeking their help. But the main thing they offer is acceptance, love, understanding, and hope. Not just hope to get through their current struggle, but the struggle of everything in their lives to provide them the tools to take control of their reproductive health. Their overall health. Their future health. The ability to provide better reproductive health information to their friends, families, children. They leave CAF’s organization stronger, smarter, and healthier than when they first placed a call for help.
This is what we should be striving for. It is important that we maintain the right to an abortion. It is important that we have doctors who are able and willing to perform this often life-changing procedure (not always life changing). We need clinics that can perform these needed abortions. But we also need people to be provided the tools to help themselves and others be in a better position to control their reproduction. We should all be fighting the fight to eliminate the need for an abortion through education, support, better financial opportunities. I’m grateful that the Chicago Abortion Fund exists to do just that. I challenge every other abortion rights and abortion fund organization to join in this battle for true control of our lives. All of our lives.
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