This time of year is always a time of reflection for me. For me, as a Black woman who devotes my life and work to reproductive justice, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade at the end of January, and Black History Month, which begins in February, aren’t just close on the calendar. They’re close in my heart.
Because the way I see it, as long as Black women cannot feel safe in this country, and raise our children with safety and justice and joy, we will not have reproductive justice. And as long as restrictive abortion laws deny the self-determination of young Black women and poor Black women and Black women living in the rural south, we cannot truly be free.
This is my 17th year as a champion for sexual health, reproductive rights, and gender justice. This movement has changed a lot, but throughout these years there have been issues that even our biggest champions wouldn’t touch. “Partial birth abortion” bans, parental notification, and the Hyde Amendment are just a few of the punitive anti-choice policies that we all but ignored in hopes that our opposition would be satisfied. We hoped, that by appearing reasonable and centrist, using language like “safe, legal, and rare,” focusing on prevention, and almost never saying the word abortion, that those who oppose abortion would call a sort of truce.
We were wrong. In the last five years alone, opponents of abortion have quietly passed 288 new abortion restrictions. Now, in many places, a person who needs an abortion has to travel far from home and navigate a maze of restrictions that could include: requiring unnecessary appointments, forcing a doctor to give medically inaccurate information, and restricting insurance coverage of abortion. All of these restrictions are compounded by the hateful rhetoric and intimidation she might find waiting for her outside the clinic doors, including the threat of violence like the kind we saw erupt in Colorado Springs late last year.
This calculated campaign against abortion rights persists because anti-abortion crusaders tell us that abortions are bad, that they are shameful, and that the pregnant people who seek them aren’t deserving of dignity, respect, and bodily autonomy.
These are lies in which, sadly, we have been somewhat complicit through silence and internalized shame. No more. As I embark on my 40th birthday and my organization URGE: United For Reproductive & Gender Equity is at the ripe age of 24, I realize that I still have something very important in common with the young people we organize with: we’re tired of the BS and ready to be bold.
Specifically, we’re ready to speak boldly, plainly, and positively about abortion. Not “reproductive health,” or “women’s rights” – which are obviously important but also are used too often as euphemisms for abortion.
I’m coming out as abortion positive.
Yes, I am a reproductive justice advocate. I support sexual health education. I fight for the self determination of all people regardless of gender. All this remains true. But I am also claiming one more part of my activist identity...I am unapologetically celebrating access to abortion. This could make for interesting plane rides and holiday dinners from this point on, but I say bring it on.
I’m abortion positive because the same stereotypes used against women seeking abortion are used to degrade and demonize Black mothers. I’m abortion positive because as a Queer woman, I know that bodily autonomy and the right to build families as we decide are human rights that belong to people of any (or no) gender. I’m abortion positive because I know all too well that running from an issue never solved anything, least of all for people who are most often and most systematically denied justice.
When I look at our activists, and at this new movement for safe, legal, and affordable abortion, I find myself in great company. We are injecting the unapologetic energy from the '70s into the new millennium, throwing out the old labels and categories, and joining together in a movement of folks working to create a new narrative. We’re ready to say that abortion is a personal decision, but abortion is also a public good. The world is better when anyone who needs an abortion can get one — easily, affordably, without stigma, and free from political interference.
Join us if you’re ready to work towards de-stigmatizing this vital health care need, and to celebrate abortion access with laughter, pride, empathy, openness, love, and most of all, respect.
Image and gif courtesy URGE
Kierra Johnson is the executive director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (formerly Choice USA). URGE mobilizes the diverse, upcoming generation of leaders to promote and protect reproductive rights, sexual health & gender justice.
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