Don’t Judge Me Till You Walk in My Shoes

Advancing Reproductive Justice in Tennessee 

By LaQuita Martin, NCJW Tennessee State Policy Advocate

When Roe v. Wade was decided, I was still in high school. I was just learning about the Pill and sexuality — my one date at the time ended with a kiss on the cheek. I learned more about the importance of Roe when college friends and sorority sisters needed abortions to continue their academic lives. Although an unplanned pregnancy never entered my medical history, I was glad to know the option of choice was available.

Fast forward to 1998. I was happily married with a three-year-old. Wanting to grow our family, my husband and I underwent six rounds of assisted fertility before learning we were pregnant again. Everything progressed fine until my 19-week ultrasound, when we learned the fetus had three heart defects, any one of which was incompatible with life outside the womb. After consulting four physicians, two rabbis (one Reform and one Orthodox), family members, and friends, it became clear the pregnancy needed to end. In the days that followed, I found myself vacillating between anger at G-d and overwhelming grief.

I decided to join the fight to advance reproductive justice in my state.

Four years later, I attended a Tennessee state legislative committee meeting as an NCJW volunteer and heard arguments in favor of restricting abortion access. I decided to join the fight to advance reproductive justice in my state, sitting through many more committee meetings and observing votes on the floor. I saw support grow among conservative leaders for a state constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 1, which would allow the Tennessee state legislature to pass bills restricting abortion. The amendment finally appeared as a ballot initiative in November 2014.

In my capacity as NCJW Tennessee State Policy Advocacy Chair, I joined forces with others to combat Amendment 1. Two statewide coalitions were formed, and NCJW joined both. With every phone call I made, and with everyone who stopped to ask about my “Vote No on 1” button, I explained why I was in this fight: People need to know that women decide to have abortions for multiple reasons: economics, unplanned pregnancies, age factors, and sometimes when a fetus cannot survive outside the womb. Our stories are as different as the lives we live, but we should all be afforded the same right to make our own decisions about our health, body, and future. I filmed a commercial for the campaign telling my own story, and provided interviews for the press.

Research and polling suggested that we had support in the urban areas. This was true — the urban areas defeated the amendment hands down, as did three rural counties. However, voter turnout was among the nation’s lowest; Amendment 1 passed by the slim margin of 51.5%.

I stood proudly waving the sign I had created, “Don’t Judge Me Till You Walk In My Shoes.”

When the newly elected Tennessee General Assembly convened on January 13, 2015, three bills restricting abortion were immediately introduced. But, despite our Amendment 1 defeat and our lawmakers’ harmful agenda, we advocates would not be deterred. Outside the building, 500 women and men were gathered from across the state, participating in a powerful “March for Women.” It was a cold day in Nashville, but there was music, chanting, and a rally on the steps of the State Capitol. I saw some amazing signs: “Separation of Vagina and State,” “It’s 2015 — Why Are We Talking About This,” and “I Vote With My Uterus.”

I stood proudly waving the sign I had created, “Don’t Judge Me Till You Walk In My Shoes.” While standing on the steps of the State Capitol, I texted my son telling him where I was, and that I was there to honor the memory of the sibling he never knew. My sweet 20-year-old wrote back saying he couldn’t be more proud.

I will continue my fight for reproductive justice because, contrary to false beliefs, women are intelligent enough to know what is best for us individually and for our families. Whether you send an e-mail to your congressperson, visit a state senator, or march with other activists, women need to keep up the pressure and show that we are out there expressing ourselves — loud and proud!