The status of reproductive justice in the U.S. is worse than in the previous 42 years since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. According to recent Guttmacher statistics, states have passed 231 abortion restrictions in the last four years. More than half the women of reproductive age (15-44) in the U.S. live in states that are hostile or extremely hostile to abortion. In 2014, 27 states were hostile, with 18 extremely hostile.
What can we do about this deplorable situation?
I suggest we look to the past for proven agents of change. People marching in the streets demanding their rights and opposing wrongs are the most impressive, effective force for change. Just think of today’s #Blacklifematters movement or the historical struggle in “Selma” or the many marches and demonstrations in the stunning documentary about the beginning of the Second Wave of the feminist movement, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.”
Even though there have been strong local or regional demonstrations in recent years, notably in Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, there has not been a call for a national demonstration since 2004. While such mobilizations used to cost pots of money — for flyers, ads, long distance phone calls, transportation — such costs have been significantly lessened with the widespread use of social media. Just look at how activists in Ferguson, Mo., have set up a national network since August that has initiated marches in cities both large and small all over the country. Estimates are that up to 400,000 people were in the streets proclaiming “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” before the holidays, and thousands came out on Martin Luther King Jr. day on Jan. 19.
With all the resources and communication networks available to the major organizations in the reproductive justice movement, it would only take a conference call to pick a date, agree on an agenda, call a press conference, and use social media to publicize a march in D.C. and other areas around the country. How about Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day, or another Sunday in March during Women’s History Month? How about the slogan ”Access to legal abortion matters,” “Black and brown children’s lives matter” and “We can’t support families on $7.25.”
Young women feel the humiliating stigma that demonizes abortion today. This is intolerable. In the 50s there was plenty of secrecy and fear when women were risking their lives to have abortions. Legalizing abortion was supposed to change all that. But secrecy and fear are still with us in today’s openly racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, unequal, unjust society, so anti-sex, anti-women, anti-working-class, anti-poor. Though those who oppose abortion claim to be defending fetal life, we in the reproductive justice movement know only too well they do not lift a finger to change social and economic conditions or public policy to help women or families.
The majority of women who have abortions already have at least one child. The economic pressures on single mothers are enormous, which is why many leaders of the low-wage movement in the fast food and retail industries are women. These women need to know that the reproductive justice movement is allied with them. And women of color need to know that the RJ movement is marching with them to end racist terror and police violence because all families matter.
Do the right thing. Women of all colors and our allies need to be united and visible in the streets demanding what is rightfully ours — access to the myriad things that are essential to guaranteeing human rights for women.
In sisterhood, sincerely,
An activist since 1967 in the movement for social and economic change, focusing particularly on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights and now reproductive justice. A founding member of CARASA (1977), the New York Pro-Choice Coalition (1985) and WHAM! (1989) and currently volunteer with Haven and work with the International Working Women’s Coalition. Published a pro-choice novel in 2011, which can be sourced at lovemeanssecondchances.com.