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Reproductive Justice

Reproductive Justice

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Published by Socialist Rose

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Socialist Rose on Dec 02, 2010
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05/03/2012

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In the United States and around the world, abor-tion is a political
 balefield.
Women’s struggles forreproductive self-determination confront a well-organized conservative movement determined todeny women the means to control our reproductiveliv
es.
Why, when millions of women continue toneed and have abortions, is the opposition to abor-tion so deep in the United States? Why are abortionand homosexuality “wedge issues” for building thepolitical right? How can we push back this move-ment and build our own struggle for reproductive justice?The Supreme Court’s
Roe vs. Wade
decision legaliz-ing abortion was delivered under the pressure offeminist organizing, including speakouts, marches,protests, and picket
lines.
The ruling represented anenormous victory for the movement, which arguedits case through chants and slogans such as “KeepYour Laws
Off
My Body” “Abortion is a Woman’sChoice” “Not the Church, Not the State: WomenShall Decide Our
Fate.”
Almost before the ink on
Roe v. Wade
was dry, con-servatives began a counter
-aack.
Their
first
suc-cess came quickly–in 1977, the Democrat-controlledCongress passed the Hyde Amendment, banningfederal funding for abortion in the Medicaid pro-gram which provided health care services for poorfamili
es.
President Carter refused to veto theamendment and the Supreme Court determined itdid not violate the principles of
Roe v. Wade
.
By 1979no federal funds could be used to perform an abor-tion unless a woman’s life was in danger
.
Low-income women who relied on public health carecould not get an abortion as part of their medical
 benefits.
Thirty years later, the “right to life” movement isthe centerpiece of resurgent conservatism,
effecti
ve-ly galvanizing the religious right and other abortion
opponents.
“Pro-choice” organizations are on thedefensive as state
afer
state passes laws limitingabortion access– laws that the Supreme Court forthe most part
upholds.
And gradually, state legisla-tures and Congress have passed legislation thatincreases and strengthens “fetal rights,” Most ofthese laws and policies target women who are theleast politically powerful: teen-age women, low-income women, women giving birth in public hos-pitals, poor women struggling with addiction,women prisoners, immigrant women, Native-American women, and rural w
omen.
FRAMING THE DEBATE
The right-wing has been able to prevent the mostvulnerable women in our country from exercisingtheir right to abortion, but they have been consis-tently defeated when access to abortion for more
I
ndian Health Services (IHS) will not provideabortion except when the woman’s life is in dan-ger or the pregnancy results from rape or incest. 1.5million American Indian and Native Alaskan womendepend on IHS for their health care. On the otherhand, the cost of a sterilization operation is fully cov-ered.Only 17 states use state funds to provide abortion tolow income women who rely on Medicaid for theirhealth care. In all other states, women must pay fortheir abortion.28 states require that a woman be given counselingthat includes at least one of the following unsubstanti-ated claims
(
the purported link between breast cancerand abortion, the ability of a fetus to feel pain, nega-tive long-term mental health consequences for thewoman)as well as the availability of services andfunding should she decide to carry the pregnancy toterm.24 states require a woman to wait a
specified
periodof time, usually 24 hours, between when she receivescounseling and when the procedure is performed. Thetime involved can be a
significant
burden for low-income working women and rural women who live farfrom an abortion provider (87% of US counties haveno abortion facilities; some states have only one).35 states require some kind of parental involvementin a minor’s decision to have an abortion. Theserequirements range from notifying one parent to con-sent of both parents.
a socialist feminist agenda
TO REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICEFROM ABORTION RIGHTS
solidarity: a socialist feminist anti-racist organization
 
racially and class-privileged women is threatened.If nothing else the mainstream pro-choice organiza-tions have held the line on keeping abortion legal.But the pro-choice forces have lost control of thepublic conversation on abortion The anti-abortionmovement sets the terms of the discussion -
defi
n-ing fetuses as persons and claiming for themselvesthe moral high ground as “defenders of life.”Although millions of women have had abortions,abortion has become a “dirty secret,” something to be ashamed of. Not murder, exactly, but an uglynecessity. In other cultures, in other times andplaces, abortion is experienced very
differently-it
isan extension of contraception, another technique forregulating our fertility, something women “take careof” as part of their responsibilities for their own andothers’ health. For the feminist activists who foughtto make abortion legal, fetuses were not persons,and abortion was, like contraception, the bedrock ofwomen’s reproductive self-determination. Withoutcontrol over our bodies, women could never hope toexercise control over our lives. Feminists arguedthat abortion is not only about ourright to refusemotherhood; it is also an important part of mother-hood –”Every child a wanted child” meant that chil-dren’s lives would be
 beer
too.
A REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE AGENDA
Socialist-feminists organizing for abortion rightstook this idea even further. We argued that individ-ual rights and individual choice are important butthey are not enough. Of course, all women needaccess to safe, legal abortion. But it is a cruel jokeplayed on working-class women, poor women andmost women of color to
define
choice as only aboutrelieving women from forced child-bearing. Realchoice means the right to have children, as well as tonot have them. Real control over our reproductivelives requires a full range of reproductive rights.These rights include access to health care for our-selves and our children, sex-positive sex education,freedom from sterilization abuse and other coerciveactions by medical and social service providers tolimit childbearing by poor women of color.Reproductive rights also include everything womenneed to raise children in dignity and health: quality
affordable
child care and well-paidparenting leave,a living wage, neighborhoods free from violence(including state violence) and environmental healthhazards, adequate housing, good schools andrespect for our motherhood, whether we are raisingchildren as a single mother, as a lesbian mother, orwith a male partner.Asocialist-feminist, anti-racist, approach to secur-ing abortion rights calls upon us to build a multi-issue movement for reproductive justice that bridges the divides of race, class, and sexual identi-ties. In contrast, the leading organizations in thepro-choice movement have followed a single-issuestrategy. They
define
reproductive rights narrowlyto be about preventing pregnancy and unwantedchildbearing. They talk exclusively about individ-ual rights (our right to privacy and “keeping gov-ernment out of our bedrooms”) and rarely talkabout social rights (our right to government pro-grams that meet our everyday needs). They neverspeak about government’s obligations to support usas caregivers or the ethical obligations we have as acommunity to ensure that everyone is cared for.Concerned to build the largest possible electoral
 
majority for candidates who are “pro-choice”, theyhave shied away from potentially divisive discus-sions of social policy and morality and
lef
the
field
open for the right-wing. While mainstream femi-nism relies on ideals of individual choice, the con-servatives have presented a world-view and ethicthat speaks to the dilemmas and concerns con-fronting people struggling to make ends meet andsurvive in an increasingly competitive world.Opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights is a cen-tral focus of resurgent conservatism, part of a broadright-wing movement that responds to the impactof economic restructuring, declining opportunitiesand increasing economic insecurity. In response topeople’s fears for the future, they
offer
security andorder based on intolerance, on the restoration ofpatriarchal authority and the repression of rebel-lious and threatening sexualities. In response to themoral emptiness and alienation of late capitalism,they
offer
an ethical crusade to “savefetuses,” “defend marriage” and“protect life.” These are simplisticand repressive solutions to complexproblems, of course. But they aresolutions nonetheless.
POPULAR AMBIVALENCE ABOUTABORTION
The right-wing has
 benefited
fromand increased a deep-seated ambiva-lence about abortion. Most people inthe United States support abortiononly conditionally–a minority (26-31%) believe that abortion should belegal under any circumstances.Although almost 90% think that rape, incest, physi-cal health and life of the woman are legitimate rea-sons for abortion, fewer than half agree that abor-tion should be allowed if “the family cannot
afford
to have the child” or “the woman feels she can’t carefor the child” or “the pregnancy interferes with workor education.”Conservatives promote the idea that sex for pleas-ure without procreation is wrong. Their movementexploits and heightens anxieties about women’s sex-ual independence. These anxieties
reflect
the reali-ty that still, in spite of important changes in howmen relate to parenthood, caring for other people inour society rests on women’s shoulders. Deepdown, we count on women to meet everyone’sneeds for care. These fears about what womenwould do if we really could choose whether or notto shoulder the burden (and pleasure) of care areexpressed directly in the national consensus thatabortion is okay incases of rape and incest: if awoman is “forced,” she has a right to abortion. Theconsensus disappears if she chooses to be heterosex-ually active-then, she ought to bear the punishmentof an unplanned pregnancy and an unwanted birth.Unconsciously tying women’s (hetero)sexual pleas-ure to coerced childbearing, this narrative reassuresus that women will always be available to care.
CHALLENGING THE RIGHT WING WORLD VIEW
Our movement must
offer
an alternative to thisworldview. Awoman’s body belongs to herselfalone. The slogan “keep your laws
off
my body”remains fundamental. But we must also argue thatsociety has a collective responsibility to establish theconditions-and the support structures-necessary foreach woman to exercise choice. Rather than ignorethe reality that people need to live ina caring community, we can arguefor social programs that providealternatives to the unpaid laborwomen currently perform as wives,mothers and caretakers. We canenvision a society where nurturing isvalued and shared equally by menand women, where intimacy andsecurity are provided withoutdepending on the oppression ofwomen.
AN ALTERNATIVE MORALITY
We also need to confront the moraland ethical issues that the anti-abor-tion movement so
defly
manipulates to their ownadvantage. Areproductive justice agenda is “pro-life” in demanding a society where all lives, includ-ing women’s lives, are valued and nurtured. Wewill also insist on a woman’s capacity for makingthe complex moral and ethical judgments that areinvolved in the many decisions women make about bearing and raising children. We will argue thatthese decisions are a woman’s alone not because ofan abstract right to privacy but because only she cantruly judge the impact of her childbearing on herself, her community, the people she loves, the chil-dren she might have, the children she does have,etc. We will also challenge any claims about the uni-versal experience of abortion-terminating a preg-nancy has vastly
different
meanings for
different
women and for the same woman at
different
timesin her life and under
different
circumstances. The

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