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Works of Radical Imagination

Reproductive Rights vs. Reproductive Justice

March 30

by Robin Marty

Let’s Talk About Reproductive Justice

An exclusive excerpt from The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America: The Complete Guide to Abortion Legality, Access, and Practical Support by Robin Marty, featuring a new introduction by Amanda Palmer, out March 30, 2021 from Seven Stories Press.

There is a common misconception that “reproductive rights” and “reproductive justice” are two synonyms that can be used interchangeably. They most definitely are not. The reproductive rights framework advocates and organizes on behalf of abortion and contraception rights. Reproductive justice, on the other hand, focuses on other equally important issues including reproductive health care access, pregnancy and childbirth, maternal mortality, reproductive technology and assistance, and so on. The framework intentionally includes these issues but also goes far beyond just reproductive health and rights to highlight the intersections of race, class, gender, socioeconomic status, immigration status, religion, and the other intersections of women and people’s lives. Birthed by Black feminists and led by women and queer people of color, reproductive justice organizations center the voices of the marginalized, dismantling the racial and economic power structures that have kept middle- and upper-class white women in leadership roles and at the helm of activism campaigns. Reproductive justice focuses on an intersection of all human rights, while other frameworks offer a siloed, less effective strategy that does not center those most vulnerable. According to SisterSong, one of the leading reproductive justice organizations in the nation, “Abortion access is critical, and women of color and other marginalized women also often have difficulty accessing: contraception, comprehensive sex education, STI prevention and care, alternative birth options, adequate prenatal and pregnancy care, domestic violence assistance, adequate wages to support our families, safe homes, and so much more.” 35

While a lot of organizations may claim to support reproductive justice, there is little to show that they are living the tenets. Now, we not only have the opportunity to change that, but we have the obligation too. Less than 25% of Hispanic women and less than 4% of Black women voted for President Trump in the 2016 election, yet an astounding 52% percent of white women supported him—and pushed him into the White House.36 Our current reproductive rights national leadership remains nearly as monolithic in race, age, and geography as they have been since Roe was decided nearly fifty years ago. Losing Roe gives us the perfect foundation to start again from scratch, rebuilding the movement as local, grassroots, intersectional, and focused on decentralizing power and resources and instead investing it with those who have been and will be the most affected by the policies.

The summer of 2020 brought an awakening for white allies to better understand their role moving forward during this period of racial, economic, and social upheaval. The murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of local police lit the fire that turned into a national reckoning and a realization that unless each white person stands up and actively dismantles white supremacy in every action, justice will never occur.

We must deliberately and purposefully bring anti-racism into every action we take. That means centering Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in every level of activism, and stepping back our support of white-led organizations that ignore—or, even worse, outright appropriate—the cause of reproductive justice as their own.

Most of this handbook is filled with actions on how to give. This is the one chapter where instead we will discuss how to take. If we are ever going to build a truly intersectional movement concentrated on true social justice, we have to support and build up the groups that are already doing that work, but just as importantly we have to send a message to organizations and advocates that aren’t willing to apply a reproductive justice lens to the work they do.

Before you consider donating, volunteering, or otherwise working with a national organization doing work around reproductive health or rights, ask yourself these questions.

1. Are there any people of color in leadership in this organization?

2. Have I looked at their board? Do they have diverse members from different communities on it?

3. Is there a reproductive justice group already working in this same area? Have I reached out to them first?

4. Has this organization formed a coalition with other groups that center marginalized communities in their activism and leadership? If so, are they actively allowing the other groups to lead?

5. Does this organization have a reputation for supporting the best practices of local organizers in a hands-off manner, instead of silencing local activists to fit the greater national message?

6. Does this organization have a reputation for supporting women of color rather than co-opting their work?

If you can’t answer yes to each of these questions, simply don’t donate or volunteer, and make it clear to them exactly why you won’t. Make a pledge to refuse to work with any organization that doesn’t prioritize marginalized leadership or voices or directly address racism and its effects on economic and social power structures. If every person vows to only support nonprofits and political groups that prioritize and elevate women and queer people of color, especially in their own communities and regions, reproductive health and rights groups will be forced to look at their own teams and campaigns and acknowledge the white privilege that has kept them in power even as the rights they claim to be dedicated to protecting eroded under their leadership.

Roe was a national decision that was immediately attacked on a state front by legislative restrictions, an attack that successfully stole abortion access from poor women and women of color years before the threat of Roe being overturned became a reality. We can no longer afford to keep taking a national approach to reproductive health and rights that continues to segregate political action and power from the communities that are the most impacted.

“National reproductive health and rights groups have created a culture of movement building placing us all on the defense, not the offense. Our work can no longer be reactive but must be strategic. Otherwise we will remain vulnerable as a conglomerate of movements and our various bases even more vulnerable,” said Cherisse Scott, CEO and founder of SisterReach in Tennessee. “The real threat of losing Roe offers an opportunity for us to start again, and this time with women and queer people of color in every aspect of leadership, including in philanthropy, research, strategy, and movement building.”

A list of reproductive justice groups follows, broken down by region. New groups are also being created every day, and SisterSong, SisterReach, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, and National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) are doing regionally based organizing and mobilization, which need sustained financial support to continue their important work.

Donating, volunteering, and otherwise supporting reproductive justice groups are the most impactful actions a person can take in a post-Roe America. These groups have been and continue to be the force doing much of the grassroots work in their communities, which have always been the hardest hit by restrictions.

35 Jody Steinauer, “Want to Protect the Right to Abortion? Train More People to Perform Them,” New York Times, August 29, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/29/opinion/abortion-provider-training-roe.html.

36 “Reproductive Justice,” SisterSong.net, accessed September 4, 2018, https://www.sistersong.net/reproductive-justice/.

The end of Roe is coming. How will you prepare?

The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America is a comprehensive and user-friendly manual for understanding and preparing for the looming changes to reproductive rights law, and getting the health care you need— by any means necessary. Activist and writer Robin Marty guides readers through various worst-case scenarios of a post-Roe America, and offers ways to fight back, including: how to acquire financial support, how to use existing networks and create new ones, and how to, when required, work outside existing legal systems. She details how to plan for your own emergencies, how to start organizing now, what to know about self-managed abortion care with pills and/or herbs, and how to avoid surveillance. The only guidebook of its kind, The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America includes new chapters that cover the needs and tools available for pregnant people across the country.

This second edition features extensively updated information on abortion legality and access in the United States, and approximately one hundred pages of new content, covering such topics as independent alternatives to Planned Parenthood, "auntie networks," taxpayer-funded abortions, and using social media wisely in the age of surveillance.

“[A] robust and creative playbook—not just to fight back against attacks on reproductive freedom but also to pre-emptively protect and expand those freedoms wherever possible.”
New York Times

“Our present dystopian truth is scarier than fiction. Marty’s timely book empowers readers with the wide-reaching wisdom and practical guidance needed to govern and care for ourselves (and each other)in the midst of uncertainty. Marty anchors us with tools and resources that help light our way back to freedom as we navigate through the shadows of attacks on reproductive justice.”
Jamia Wilson, former executive director and publisher of The Feminist Press

“An essential tool to contend with the Court’s possible overturning—if not further restricting—of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.”
David Rosen, New York Journal of Books

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