BEYOND THOTS VS. GOOD GIRLS
Reproductive justice combats state violence against women
by Renee Bracey Sherman
Editor’s Note: This piece was originally posted on For Harriet as a part of an op-ed series curated by #WeBuiltThis in which Black millennial contributors explore the sordid relationship between state violence and elected politicians.
Black women know more than anyone how critical elections are. In so many ways, our livelihoods are on the ballot. Politicians are deciding the fate of schools in our communities and whether a living wage will be the law of the land. Every four years we hear promises, but once the governing begins, we are forgotten as a constituency despite our high voter turnout. But no more.
Politicians are depending on our vote, but if they want it, they must be prepared to be held accountable once they take office. They must be prepared to fight for our liberation, to prove that Black lives really do matter to them and to make reproductive justice a reality.
Black women’s needs are placed on the back burner too often, and this is detrimental to our families and communities. Politicians refuse to use an intersectional lens in their policies in order to recognize how they impact us as both Black people and women.
Make no mistake, millennial Black women aren’t letting let this slide. We know our futures are at stake. We’re demanding our seat at the table.
As the violence of police brutality assails our communities, Black women are contemplating what it means to become a parent and raise our families free from harm. This is true reproductive justice: the freedom to decide if, when and how we become a parent, and the ability to parent our children apart from violence. Environmental racism, school funding,job quality and the availability of mental health support impacts our decision. And at the core of all of this is our ability to control our fertility through comprehensive healthcare.
Across the nation, state and local governments are systematically denying access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion and contraception. While much of the media is focused on national candidates, politicians hell-bent on codifying misogynoir into law take office year after year. From abortion bans based on racist myths to promoting the tired stereotype of promiscuous welfare queens, the Black woman is their first and primary target.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled on the most important abortion rights case in more than 20 years, striking down a law designed to shut down half of the abortion clinics in Texas. Proponents of the law claimed it was for “women’s health and safety” yet ignored the fact that abortion is one of the safestpossible medical procedures — safer, even, than childbirth.
For the short time the Texas law was in effect, appointment wait times could be as long as three weeks, forcing patients later into their pregnancy. In some cases, the additional wait time raised the cost of an abortion from $450 to well over $1,000, and forced patients to travel to different states, adding time and cost to the entire ordeal. Black women are deeply impacted by the anti-abortion restrictions leaving only one or two abortion clinics in the entire state. Despite what white supremacists may tell you, fewer than one in 10 abortion clinics are in Black communities. This leaves Black women seeking abortions to take matters into their own hands, sometimes putting their lives at risk. Politicians are creating a problem in search of a solution full of stigma, risking our lives.
The majority of people seeking abortions are parents living on limited financial resources, so saving up hundreds of dollars for health care that insurance ought to cover can take weeks or months. Not to mention, public insurance programs like Medicaid are barred from covering abortion care due to the Hyde Amendment, a federal budgetary policy. As a result of this legislation, a quarter of Medicaid recipients are being forced to carry pregnancies to term that they don’t want to. Others must come up with funds out of pocket or ask their local abortion fund for assistance — it’s unjust and degrading to force people to borrow money and sell belongings just to afford healthcare.
Studies have shown that women who are denied the abortion they seek are three times as likely to be living in poverty two years later. We must recognize that abortion is not only a family planning issue — it is also an economic justice issue. When we are permitted to financially plan for our families, we flourish.
It’s true, Black women are five times more likely to have an abortion, and research demonstrates that this is because politicians choose not to invest in contraception or comprehensive sex education programs in our communities and schools. This isn’t just about safe sex — with the Black woman’s maternal mortality rate three times higher than white women’s, this is the difference between life and death. We are unable to make the best decisions for ourselves when we lack basic resources, and politicians are working overtime to keep them away.
There are those who want to make the abortion debate about thots versus good girls.There are those who want to save our community from Black genocide. They’re both deeply mistaken. The politicians who rail against abortion to save Black lives are nowhere to be found when we ask them to march for Tamir Rice or fight for queer liberation — they have nothing but slurs and epithets for young mothers trying to feed their families. True reproductive justice means everyone is supported, no matter what decision they make about their pregnancy or whom they love and with whom they make a family. No one should have to bring a child into this world only to be met by stigma and hatred.
But lacking access to abortion care isn’t the only threat to our reproductive autonomy. Every one of us knows someone who is in constant pain due to fibroids — perhaps it’s you reading this. For many, the pain of heavy periods and cramping is only controlled by contraception, yet politicians are fighting to keep employers from having to cover birth control pills and IUDs on private insurance plans paid for with our hard earned money. This impacts our daily well-being to the point that we’re unable to focus and function at work and in school. Is their ideological crusade really worth it?
Nah. Not on our watch.
Millennials, Black ones in particular, are especially engaged in politics and social justice, and we’re fed up. Folks are out here giving lessons on intersectional analysis over Instagram and across the Internet, so we’re not willing to accept politicians who can’t demonstrate even the feeblest understanding. We’re not here for lip service. We’re going to make sure they know it.
The fight for civil rights has always been intersectional, even if history doesn’t remember it that way. Rosa Parks, most known for her civil disobedience on a bus, spent much of her time working to eradicate sexual assault and served on the board of Planned Parenthood. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she knew that access to family planning services was key to Black women’s success. And before Rosa, there was 15-year old mom Claudette Colvin, who refused to move from her seat on the bus.
We’re still fighting for many of the same things. We’re eradicating rape, ending police brutality, fighting for healthcare and voting to make our voices heard. We will continue to fight as our ancestors fought, because we built this country and because we deserve to live in it free from harm.
Now, the question is: what will politicians do about it?
Renee Bracey Sherman is a reproductive justice activist working to increase the visibility of people who have abortions.
Follow her on Twitter @RBraceySherman.