Remembering those still waiting for the promise of Roe

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the historic Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that opened the door for legal access to abortion in the US.
Every year the anniversary rolls around to different activities, commemorations, reflections. It’s my 7th anniversary as an active member of the broader reproductive justice community and I’m tired. Particularly as things play out in the media, as the different organizations put out their media initiatives, press releases, blog carnivals, I feel tired.

Tired of the same fights, tired of the old dynamics, tired of the fact that we’re losing. Generally, around the country, in those seven years since I’ve been part of this movement with a capital M, access to abortion has only gotten harder. More restrictions, more laws, more hurdles and barriers.

It’s tiring to fight a fight that we’re losing. From my latest column:

Each year, as the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade rolls around, I respond with a sigh. Each year comes the reminder that one complicated court case, hung on the premise of privacy, has wholly framed this movement I call home. The reminder that the conversation about Roe is usually uncomfortably celebratory. The reminder that the anti-choice movement almost always host rallies that outnumber ours by thousands on that day. The reminder that the media conversation tends to be dominated by white women who praise Roe, or questions of where the young people, like me, are in the “pro-choice” movement.

The reminder that the promise of Roe has yet to be achieved for many, and that hundreds of dedicated activists, my peers, use their spare time to raise money for those for whom Roe is a hypothetical promise when the bank account sum doesn’t add up and the state programs say no. Each year, the celebration feels even less celebratory, as the laws and restrictions pile onto themselves. The legal concept of doctor/patient privacy may protect the procedure, but it doesn’t protect against forced misinformation, ultrasounds, waiting periods, public shame and financial barriers.

But. But there is always that little inkling of hope, there are always those moments of change, of shifting, of opening that make you believe that maybe we are heading in the right direction. Full-spectrum doulas, and the movement we’re apart of, give me hope. The internet and the community it builds gives me hope. The Strong Families media series I helped promote this year that centered voices of people of color gives me hope. The video above, produced by an organization I’ve worked with for the last seven years (and just transitioned out of) gives me hope. It’s that hope the keeps me pushing even when I’m tired, even when I’m frustrated. You all give me hope.

You can read more about the media series in my latest column at RH Reality Check. I also had the fabulous opportunity to record a radio segment with Pati Garcia, aka Chula Doula, about the doula movement in honor of the Roe anniversary on a Los Angeles based show called Feministing Magazine on KPFK. Listen here!

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Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, where those transgender people who have passed on, whether due to violence, discrimination or suicide are remembered and honored.

Last week was also Transgender Awareness Week, organized by Fenway Health in Massachusetts.

I’ve been working for weeks now on a long article about the transgender community, so I’ve been knee deep in interviews and research about transgender people in the United States.

It’s depressing, to say the least. Experiences of discrimination are frighteningly widespread. Health disparities abound. Violence is a common fact of life.

But there is also much resilience, much hope, much strength in the transgender community. There is much knowledge that the arc of history bends towards justice, and that the transgender struggle lives in all of us who understand how ideas of gender limit all of us.

I wrote about discrimination and transgender health disparities last week at RH Reality Check, which you can read here. The discrimination that transgender people face impacts their health in serious ways, and when race is factored in, the disparities are even greater.

But on this day of solemnity and remembrance, let us also remember perseverance and strength. For every person who has passed on, there are many more who are thriving and surviving.

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Prison Birth Project Fall Fundraising Celebration

Celebration logo with leaf

The Prison Birth Project is a fabulous full spectrum doula group that provides support to incarcerated women who are pregnant and parenting in a Western Mass prison. If you don’t already know about their work, get to know it.

They are also a non-profit org and fundraise to pay their coordinators and keep the group running. So they need your support!

If you are in the Western Mass area, you have no excuse not to attend their event. If you’re not, consider donating!

Working within a system as messed up as our criminal justice system is no easy task for an activist, but it’s also essential to support the increasing numbers of pregnant and parenting folks on the inside.

Show them some love!

Why the public funding debate could end abortion access all together

My latest column is up at RH Reality Check, reflecting on this 36th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, and why our movement’s decision not to go to battle for public funding for abortion is leading us down a slippery slope that could result in a total ban on abortion.

Sunday was the kind of anniversary you wish you didn’t have to celebrate: specifically, the 36th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, one of the most restrictive reproductive rights laws in recent history. It restricts the use of federal funds for abortion services, meaning that people on publicly-funded insurance programs like Medicaid and Medicare (the low-income and the disabled) have to pay for abortion services out of pocket. The vast majority of the women affected by this ban are low-income, and if you are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, you aren’t likely to be able to shell out anywhere from $300 to $3000 for an abortion procedure.

Efforts to repeal the Hyde amendment are more often than not seen as unrealistic, and advocates work instead to maintain the status quo—low-income women denied access to abortion. Often the argument is that if we try and fight the public funding battle, we might lose ground in overall access to abortion. But I think that the exact opposite is true. If we don’t fight the public funding debate, we’re going to lose altogether.

Even though the real reason to fight these policies is that no one should be restricted access to a medical procedure just because they are poor–sometimes it’s also important to demonstrate how these policies actually put everyone’s access at risk, low-income or not. The reason is because we live in a classist society, and low-income people’s needs are not always represented in the agenda of big movements. So their needs get sold out in an effort to preserve access overall, but what I’m arguing is that overall access is being put at risk because of these concessions.

Read the whole thing here.

California extends shackling ban for pregnant incarcerated women

Woman holding baby with words "no more shackles"

For three years now advocates in California have been working to extend the ban on shackling pregnant incarcerated women to include shackling during transport as well as labor and delivery. The ban on shackling during labor was already on the books, and this policy, which passed the legislature two years in a row before being vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger and then Governor Brown, was finally signed on Friday.

While shackling during labor gets the most media attention, it’s not the only problem that pregnant women in prison face.

I wrote more about this for Colorlines last year, but pregnant people in prison face many challenges: inadequate nutrition, exercise, prenatal care. Then once the baby is born many get no time with the child to breastfeed or bond, some children are automatically put into the child welfare system and sent to foster families.

I’m really glad to see the momentum building in our favor when it comes to the treatment of pregnant women in prison–but let’s remember for a second where these practices come from: they are based on the way men are treated in prison. W0men used to be a rarity in prisons and jails, a trend reversed in recent decades with the war on drugs. When women’s prisons cropped up with more frequency, many of the practices and policies that had applied in men’s prisons were simply transferred to the women.

Should anyone be shackled in prison? Is that a humane way to treat anyone, pregnant or not?

Should men be shackled when transported for court visits or medical procedures? Or women who aren’t pregnant? I don’t want these policy changes to simply be an exception for pregnant women–I want them to encourage us to reconsider how we treat everyone in our criminal “justice” system.

Congrats to everyone in California who worked on this bill year after year!

Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion

Thanks to Steph Herold on twitter, I found out that today is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. A little more poking around and I learned that it’s a day that was inspired by activists in Latin America:

Spanish logo for 28th of september

September 28 Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion has its origin in Latin America and the Caribbean where women’s groups have been mobilizing around September 28 the last two decades to demand their governments to decriminalize abortion, to provide access to safe and affordable abortion services and to end stigma and discrimination towards women who choose to have an abortion. The original name of the campaign in Latin America and the Caribbean is Campaña 28 de Septiember por la Despenalización del Aborto, which continues up to this day growing in force and commitment on the part of women’s rights activists in the region. The date – September 28 – was chosen in commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Brazil which is now remembered as the day of the “free womb” demanding for safe and legal abortion for all women.

While we face our own serious battles in the US, particularly around issues of access to abortion, it’s good to be reminded that internationally, in many countries, the situation is much worse. Countries where abortion is completely criminalized, where women who arrive at the hospital with bleeding or a miscarriage can be turned into the police.

We’re not so far from that reality in the US, either historically or in the potential future, but the struggles are distinct. Thinking globally reminds of us this fact, and encourages us to understand this is a worldwide struggle.

For me the battle for access to safe and legal abortion is indicative of a much larger struggle that goes way beyond this one procedure. It’s a struggle for autonomy, for respect, for trust in each of us as individuals to make the best choices for us. It’s a struggle against doctrine, politics and ideology that limits how we live our lives.

Check out actions for today’s event here.

Soy Poderosa!

Latina Week of Action logo

This year I once again have the pleasure of working with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health on their annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice.

They are an organization close to my heart–it’s the first place I worked when I graduated from college, and I’ve stuck around in one capacity or another ever since.

For this year’s Week of Action, the theme is Soy Poderosa (I am powerful). It’s about claiming power and space for the Latina community–about elevating the ways in which we are already working to shape our lives and our futures.

Why am I a Poderosa?

Because I believe in the power of my community. Because I know that even with few resources and little institutional power we are doing incredible things to secure our right to livelihood.

I’m powerful because I choose to have a voice, I choose to put my ideas and thoughts out into the world.

I’m powerful because I know that the arc of history bends toward justice, and that while my community has suffered greatly, we have also persevered, survived and even thrived.

Want to join the Week of Action? Check out these ways to get involved.