June 2, 2022

Reproductive Justice | Week 4 Challenge Recap

Last week in our Stand Against Racism Challenge, we learned about Reproductive Justice. Whether or not you’re taking the Challenge with us, you can still learn more about how this concept

comes to play in Spokane. 

Take The Challenge


In today’s post, we will be diving into the concept of reproductive justice, how it intersects with racial and social justice, and how it shows up in our community.

*Please note that this post will be discussing topics that may be triggering or upsetting, including pregnancy and pregnancy complications, abortion, domestic violence, sexual assault, homicide, and racial discrimination*

Sister Song, a reproductive justice collective formed by women of color based out of Atlanta, GA, defines reproductive justice (RJ) as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” It takes a different approach than the reproductive rights movement, which tends to focus on individual rights and the legal system, and looks at systemic issues that impact true reproductive freedom. Reproductive justice often intersects with racial and social justice. RJ advocates argue that even when reproductive health services are legal, they are not always meaningfully accessible. Many factors can play a role in accessibility–such as geographic location, availability of clinics or providers, ability to travel, being able to afford services, or finding childcare. Many of these factors are influenced by a person’s race, class, gender identity, and other intersections of identity. As Sister Song puts it, “there is no choice where there is no access.” 

The relationship between racial and reproductive justice becomes even more clear when we look at maternal mortality rates in the United States. For example, in 2019, the CDC released data showing that Black, American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN), and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander (NHOPI) women are approximately two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. A significant difference in these rates occurs even when accounting for education level, and this disparity only increases with age. Black, AIAN, and NHOPI women are also more likely to experience preterm births and babies with low birth weights, and are more likely to not receive pregnancy-related care until later in pregnancy or none at all. 

Researchers believe that the reasons for this are complex, including social and economic factors, structural racism, increased barriers to care and accessing health insurance, and systemic provider discrimination. Studies show that people of color are less likely to receive routine medical procedures, more likely to experience lower quality of care, and see higher rates of mistreatment from medical professionals. A notable example of this can be seen in the story of Serena Williams–yes, that Serena Williams–and her recent birth experience.

After giving birth to her now-four-year-old daughter, Olympia, Williams developed a strange cough and insisted repeatedly that something was wrong. She reports that medical staff called her “crazy” and dismissed her until the CAT scan she demanded revealed a blood clot in her lungs. Thankfully, it was caught early enough for surgical intervention. If even one of the most successful and recognizable black women in the world had her symptoms dismissed and had to beg for life-saving care, we can only imagine what others are experiencing. 


History of Forced Sterilization in the United States

Another intersection of reproductive justice and racial & social justice can be seen in the dark history of forced sterilizations in the United States. 

Forced sterilizations were recently highlighted as an issue after a whistleblower revealed that ICE detention facilities were performing sterilization procedures without consent on detainees, but this is unfortunately far from a new problem. Forced sterilizations have historically been overwhelmingly performed on immigrants, Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities, and those who are mentally or physically disabled, incarcerated, or poor. The justifications for these atrocities were largely taken from eugenics, a movement started in the 19th century that sought to arrange reproduction in a way that would result in “desirable” traits. 

To learn more about the history of forced sterilization in the US, you can watch this 7-minute video:


Reproductive Justice & Domestic Violence

Reproductive justice is also relevant to us as a domestic violence services provider. Intimate partner violence is a pattern of behavior that seeks to establish power and control over another person. One of the ways that power and control can be established is through reproductive abuse or coercion. Some examples of this include: 

  • Tampering with or sabotaging birth control
  • Refusing to use barrier protection, such as condoms, or “stealthing” (removal of barrier protection during sexual acts without the other party’s knowledge or consent)
  • Forcing sex 
  • Forcing someone to keep or terminate a pregnancy 

Another disturbing fact: pregnancy is a significant risk factor for homicide. A recent study published by Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that in the US, those who are pregnant or were pregnant in the last 42 days are more than twice as likely to die by homicide than the leading medical causes of death associated with pregnancy. These rates are even higher for black women, almost three-fold. If we combine this information with the data released by the CDC in 2017 that more than half of female homicide victims were related to intimate partner violence, we can see how pregnancy creates increased risk for victims. 


Reproductive Justice in Local Legislation

According to Faviola Lopez, Regional Organizing Director for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho (PPGWNI), these issues are very present in our own communities. She identified that while service providers like Planned Parenthood can help to serve patients in the gaps–such as those who are low income, without insurance, people of color, or in rural areas–thanks to expanding their services into more general medical care along with reproductive health, many of their health centers are at capacity. 

Lopez argues that we cannot have true “equity” if we don’t address multiple points of oppression. For example, the Raíz (Spanish for “root”) program through Planned Parenthood focuses specifically on health, insurance, and access to care disparities in the Latinx community. Some of the state-level legislative issues they consider relevant to reproductive justice include ensuring access to insurance for immigrants, protecting access to abortion care, and promoting accountability in healthcare mergers, along with legislation that addresses things like tax equity and racial equity. In other words, there is a far bigger picture to look at in terms of what makes reproductive healthcare truly equitable. 

For example, the issues impacting our neighbors across the state border in Idaho, which PPGWNI also oversees, often also affect our communities here in Spokane by proxy. There has been national discussion on Idaho Senate Bill 1309, a piece of legislation that bans abortions after the detection of cardiac activity, which is typically around six weeks. The law only allows exceptions for rape and incest if documentation of the assault, such as a police report, is given to the medical provider. The law was supposed to go into effect on April 22nd, but implementation has been delayed by the Idaho Supreme Court after PPGWNI filed a petition to block it. 

Idaho is also one of 13 states that has what is called a “trigger” law, meaning that if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned at the federal level, abortion will become illegal in the state. A total of 23 states will likely ban abortion immediately without the federal-level protection Roe provides. As of May 2022, a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion revealed that the highest court of the land is set to roll back Roe v. Wade, which would have far-reaching and devastating consequences. 

If a state-level ban were to go into effect, an Idaho citizen seeking an abortion could, hypothetically, come to Washington. But that would require extra time, money, and resources on top of the cost of the procedure itself. Those who oppose the law argue that this would be an undue burden, and that it would unfairly discriminate against those who cannot access those things easily. It would create further strain on our health centers and make it more difficult for patients residing here to access care.

It is also important to note that even with the exceptions for rape and incest, the requirement of documentation presents a host of barriers. Many victims of these crimes are hesitant to involve law enforcement for a host of reasons, ranging from the traumatization of having to repeat their story or having to undergo invasive rape kit procedures, to having complex feelings about or negative past experiences with the criminal justice system. The Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that two-thirds of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement, and that of the cases that are reported, only 25 out of every 1000 perpetrators will actually face incarceration. Those are not good odds, and it is no wonder that many survivors decide not to pursue legal action against perpetrators. With this in mind, one could argue that requiring legal documentation to meet the rape or incest exception under SB 1309 is not trauma-informed or practical. 

Reproductive justice is a complex and deeply personal issue. The request seems simple–we should have control over our own bodies in safe and equitable ways, be able to decide when or if we have children, and have safe and equitable communities for our families. But diving into reproductive justice shows us many systemic issues and barriers we have yet to address, and just how many intersections exist in our own lives and neighborhoods.


If you have…


5 Minutes

and

30 Minutes

and

 45 minutes

Image of a grey clock with text that says, "5 minutes" and and
Check out this press release

by the CDC on racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health and mortality.

and Explore these fact sheets

by the National Black Women’s Reproductive Agenda on the connections between reproductive health and racial justice.

and Listen to this podcast

by the ACLU with Renee Bracey Sherman, of We Testify, to understand the movement for reproductive justice.

BONUS RESOURCES:


REFLECT


Take a moment to reflect today’s challenge and any insights you experienced.

  • How did this challenge make you feel?
  • What did you learn?
  • What did you notice about yourself after taking the challenge?
  • Consider sharing this new awareness with a friend or group to help deepen your understanding of the information.
  • Continue the conversation online and connect with others by joining our Racial & Social Justice Facebook group.

Let us know why this challenge is important to you by leaving your comment here


Again, thank you for joining us in our Stand Against Racism Challenge. Our work continues every weekday from May 2 – May 30. Each day you’ll be offered some content to help you take a deeper dive into the daily topic.

We ask that you undertake this challenge with an open mind and willingness to explore new ideas and allow yourself to sit with any emotions that may come up for you.

This content may be hard to process so consider having a self-care plan in place beforehand. This can include meditation before or after engaging, watching your favorite show, or doing something creative.

We look forward to going on this journey towards true equity and justice with you!

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By: Brit Wilson

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