“Choice” versus “Reproductive Justice”

It’s been over a year since I last wrote a blog. The topic was a passionate defense of the award-winning documentary “After Tiller.” The movie profiles the four doctors who were inspired to follow Dr. George Tiller’s example after he was gunned down on a Sunday in 2011 in his church — of all places, by a religious zealot, no less. Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors in the U.S. who performed third-trimester abortions, and the movie shows, with such humanity and compassion, how the four are carrying on in the spirit of his motto “Trust women.” If you haven’t had the good fortune to see the movie (which was shown on PBS this September and is available on Netflix), I urge you to do so. And if you need motivation, read my blog at lovemeanssecondchances.com. There’s also a review at workers.org.

Please note that my blog has been on hiatus — that makes it sound so professional (wink, wink) — since last fall when I had to clear up some financial issues about selling the book on Amazon and I wanted to post yet another corrected version of the text via Lightning Source. It’s amazing to me, the compulsive copyeditor/proofreader, that I continue to find sneaky little typos. Now that both issues have been resolved, I’m back to promoting my novel via this blog.

I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Susan Robinson, one of the four doctors in “After Tiller,” at the 28th annual conference “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom” at Hampshire College in April. She’s just as down to earth, genuine, and dedicated as she appears in the movie — a real-life, totally unpretentious, genuine hero. It was exciting and delightfully gratifying to meet her.

There, I also met Dr. Melissa Madera, founder and director of The Abortion Diary Podcast, who subsequently interviewed me. Her concept for the podcast diary is that one way to end women’s shame about having an abortion — and to break the silence resulting from the current viciously anti-abortion atmosphere — is to share our stories openly, publicly, proudly. Please check out Melissa’s wonderful project at theabortiondiarypodcast.com. My story, entitled “I knew I couldn’t be a single mother,” is  #53. And if you can make even a small contribution, please do. Every effort to affirm abortion as a woman’s human right helps build the movement for reproductive justice for all women. Onward!

Last winter-spring, I wrote a series of articles for Workers World about the Hobby Lobby case, delving into its many complicated aspects — an overview of the issues, especially the fraudulent claim of “religious liberty”; why the free contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act is essential for woman’s health and well-being as well as that of her family; and what political forces were behind the law suit. You guessed it, several far-right religious groups as well as the Kochs (whom I have since daubed “the kings of the oligarchs!). More recently, I’ve been writing about the attacks on poor women’s right to access abortion in Texas for WW.  If you’re curious about those articles, and a review of “Obvious Child,” you’ll find them under my byline at workers.org.

Words matter, terminology matters

Over the summer the New York Times ran a very provocative article that claimed the concept of “pro-choice” was outdated, no longer necessary. I disagree. In a nutshell, the essence of choice is that every woman should have the means to freely choose whether or not to have children with whom she pleases. I call “Love Means Second Chances” a pro-choice novel because that immediately identifies it, setting it apart from other novels. I see “choice” as a useful shorthand for the whole constellation of factors — economic, social, gender/sexual, religious, cultural, political, environmental  — that comprise the umbrella concept of reproductive justice.

At the Hampshire conference, Loretta Ross described how the term RJ originated 20 years ago when a group of Black women got together after attending the U.N. conference on women in Cairo. They were frustrated because they felt the term “reproductive rights” didn’t go far enough. They wanted  women’s control over their own bodies to be viewed as a human right that must be guaranteed like all other human rights defined by the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hence reproductive justice. But RJ is a very sophisticated, comprehensive concept and most people may not immediately understand the totality of what it encompasses: that every woman has the human right to experience the many aspects of her life freely and fully. So for now, I’m continuing to use “pro-choice” as an easy identifier when that’s appropriate.

But the concept of RJ is essential when discussing some issues. One of the most far-reaching aspects was articulated this summer in several articles posted on RH Reality Check (a wonderful resource with daily material on all aspects of RJ). Katherine Cross summarized points made in a few of them and then added her own analysis in “The Price of Our Blood: Why Ferguson Is a Reproductive Justice Issue” (Aug. 26).  She writes:

“Far from being a ‘separate issue,’ as some would like to imagine, what happened to Michael Brown is as much a profound indictment of our lack of reproductive justice as it is our lack of racial and economic justice.

“If reproductive choice is about deciding whether or not one can have a family, or how large one wants her family to be, then structural violence imposed on a community is a constraint upon that freedom. If a woman like Marissa Alexander, for instance, cannot defend her own life and her children from an abusive parent, that too is a violation of reproductive freedom.

“The issue is not only the tragic loss of a child, or an unjustly incarcerated mother. It’s the fact that for the entire Black community in our society, there is a calculus to be made about one’s children that’s not prevalent among whites.” Later she adds: “All lives must be valued as equal. There can be no reproductive justice without racial justice.” And I would add economic, social, gender/sexual, cultural, political and environmental justice — every aspect of life that affects all women’s existence. Cross then goes on to discuss how this same lack of equality is played out in Native, Latina, and other people-of-color communities.

I urge you, if you haven’t read this article, to read it at tinyurl.com/lj4dml2.

I’ll be posting this blog more regularly from now on!