When the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade 43 years ago, they were ruling to empower women by legalizing safe abortion. This decision has been instrumental in protecting women’s agency over our own bodies and lives.
On the 43rd anniversary of Roe, it’s hard to believe that we are still fighting to get and keep health care. The anti-choice movement continuously keeps us on the defensive when it comes to legislation, and finds any way possible spread false information and shame women.
As abortion fund leaders at Access Reproductive Care-Southeast (ARC-Southeast) based in Atlanta, GA, and the New Orleans Abortion Fund, we intimately understand the impact that barriers can have on women trying to obtain abortion care. We believe that no one should go hungry to pay for their healthcare. We also know the dangers that come when abortion is regulated out of existence and women are forced to terminate their own pregnancies without the care of a doctor. Recently, a study examined the spike in incidences of women ending their own pregnancies in Texas, where many clinics have closed. Women cited four reasons: lack of funds to travel to and pay for the procedure, closure of a local clinic, recommendation by a family member, and the fear of the stigma that comes with going to an abortion clinic.
In Georgia, 96% of counties in 2011 had no abortion clinic and 58% of Georgia women live in those counties. This is above the national average. Georgia is also becoming increasingly diverse, with one of the largest increases in the South in immigrant and refugee populations. Individuals and their chosen families, especially those in low-income communities of color, are deeply affected by barriers to abortion access such as stigma, lack of transportation, cultural and linguistic barriers, and inadequate sexual health education.
In Louisiana, a lack of clinics and a 24-hour waiting period means having to take time off of work, find transportation, lodging, and childcare. Clinics are required by the state to give women state-written information 24 hours before the termination. She must also undergo an ultrasound in which the provider is required to ask her if she wants to see the image. Whatever the answer is, the provider is required to describe the image to her. The woman must be told if a fetal heartbeat is detected. By law, the provider has to ask the women whether or not she wants to hear it. Guilt and shame are built into the process.
Doing the work we do requires having a high level of cultural and community competency to be able to assess the needs of a community in order to provide relevant and substantial support. It also means being cognizant of the language used surrounding abortion care and understanding that traditional "choice" language does not resonate with the low-income, disenfranchised, people of color we serve.
The term "pro-choice" was first documented a year after the Roe decision and has always meant to speak specifically to whether or not a woman has the access and financial ability to have a safe and legal abortion. What "pro-choice" assumes, however, is that each woman has the option, resources, and support to be able to make the choice to parent. In order for us to communicate pro-choice language to these diverse groups, we must make an attempt to make it relevant and relatable to the women, men, and young people in these communities.
The choice to parent is not a choice that many of our clients feel that they have. Many women get abortions because they are not paid a living wage, do not have healthcare, or do not want to bring a child into a world full of police violence without recourse, or violence at the hands of people with easy access to guns. Reclaiming Roe would mean understanding that the choices people in our communities make are life choices that allow them to have more control over their ability to live a meaningful life. Honoring those choices means acknowledging that we are all experts in our own narratives and realizing that everyone’s lived experiences contribute to the decision making process. As advocates and activists, if we are standing with women to empower them to control their own destinies, we must fight with them to ensure access to all of their options.
The individuals we work with do indeed have serious choices to make. However, those choices go beyond the binary choice narrative of choosing whether or not to be a parent by carrying a pregnancy to full term. In order to engage those disproportionately affected by the barriers to abortion access, we must have language that resonates with the realities they face in their daily lives.
By approaching this work with an intersectional Reproductive Justice lens, the systems and institutions that contribute to the reproductive health decision-making process must be analyzed, challenged, and changed or dismantled. By making connections between this decision making process and other issues or movements like racial, social, and economic justice we are able to more completely address the needs of women.
What we strive toward is an end toward systemic oppressions that could influence someone’s decision to have a child. This is a big war and just some of the battles include reducing economic disparities by increasing the minimum wage, ensuring every single person gets paid sick and parental leave, challenging institutional racism and police violence, expanding Medicaid and guaranteeing access to medications, and fighting the for-profit prison system.
This Roe anniversary, we hope that advocates and activists are reminded of the importance of unity across struggles. In the South, with so much opposition, this is vital to our communities’ health and safety. With the ruling of Whole Women’s Health vs. Cole coming in a few short months we need to really evaluate the way that we do this work to best empower and strengthen the communities in which we work. Reproductive Justice is achieved when all individuals have the social, political, and economic power to make the best and most well informed decisions for themselves and their chosen families. We have a long way to go but the time to mobilize is now.
Images courtesy ARC and NOAF (bottom photo only).
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Oriaku Njoku is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Access Reproductive Care (ARC) Southeast, an abortion fund based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Marlo Barrera is Intake Coordinator for the New Orleans Abortion Fund.