By Isabell Rivera
On Feb. 20, the socialist-feminist organization Radical Women and the Comrades of Color Caucus of the Freedom Socialist Party hosted a virtual event, “Black Women Fire Up the Movement for Reproductive Justice,” in time to celebrate both Black History Month and March’s Women’s History Month.
The fight for reproductive rights and the required access to them is not over yet, as seen by the recent Texas ban on abortions past six weeks into a pregnancy. Next, if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade, it will give at least 26 states the power to ban abortion rights altogether, according to research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute.
The February discussion covered various topics regarding Black women and reproductive rights, including the sterilization of Black women in California’s prison, which took place from 1997 to 2010 and was performed on approximately 1,400 young Black women without their knowledge or consent. In addition, the discussion gave room to further elaborate on how to model a reproductive justice movement to defend and expand everyone’s rights, as reproductive rights save lives, according to the first keynote speaker Irene Akingbade.
Akingbade joined the coalition National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice in San Francisco and helped organize their first rally last October. In this discussion, she was curious to know from other activists how they can reinvigorate the fight to control women’s own bodies.
“It was that brief moment in time where the media reported on the horrifying facts in the seriousness of the draconian laws that were being passed. So that the bill made it illegal for people to get an abortion after six weeks of gestation,” Akingbade said during the event. “It all sounded very familiar to me. As a Black woman to have a series of laws that sought to control the bodies of people, primarily women, and encourage vigilantism.”
An estimated 40 million women, ages 13 to 44 live in states hostile towards abortion rights, the Guttmacher Institute found out. This means that women have to travel to other states where abortion rights are more liberal to get care, which is costly, as well as time-consuming. Akingbade noted the importance of Black women to join the fight for reproductive rights.
“It’s because it’s all connected to the history of Black people specifically in this country,” Akingbade said. “When speaking about reproductive rights I think it’s common to mention the hypocrisy of conservatives, who say they care about life but do nothing to save the lives of people giving birth, or do nothing to help or save the lives of parents and children once they are born.”
Many pro-life conservatives are not only fighting against the right to an abortion but are also fighting against sexual education in school and contraception methods, which could prevent unplanned preganancies and abortions. In addition, many conservatives are also actively fighting against universal health care and child care, making it difficult for women who are single parents to receive support from the government once giving birth.
“They actively fight against procedures that prevent the mental and physical harm of giving birth when one doesn’t want to, or one is pregnant in circumstances such as rape, or abuse,” Akingbade continued. “I think what gets left out more or often in mainstream conversations at least, is how it is all connected to the ongoing history of this country attacking the bodily autonomy of women, Black people, Brown people, indigenous people, trans, and non-binary people, people who are physically or mentally disabled, undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized groups.
“Specifically this Black History Month I think it’s important to highlight how these attacks on reproductive rights affect the Black community. Unsurprisingly, these also disproportionately affect Black lives. Forcing a Black person to give birth in the U.S. can be a death sentence. The maternal mortality rate for Black people is three-and-a-half times higher than it is for White people.”
Black women, who are college graduates, die at a higher rate (1.6 times) of pregnancy-related issues than White women, who have not completed high school, according to Akingbade.
“For centuries, Black people have been denied the right of bodily autonomy. We’ve had to fight for the basic right to choose if and when to have children,” Akingbade said. “The right to obtain and keep the basic necessities to take care of those children, the right to keep our families together and safe, and the right to define our bodies how we would like to define them. Therefore it is unsurprising, that so much is at stake and for so long that Black people specifically Black women both cis and trans and Black trans men across the diaspora have been at the forefront of the fight for reproductive justice since the days of enslavement. And that’s why it’s important that we are here today to talk about reproductive rights from a Black perspective.”
According to queer rights activist Kristina Lee, the African-American community is not a monolithic community. Some individuals feel that it’s adding to the genocidal plot to limit the births of Black people. And then there are others, who don’t support abortion due to religious beliefs. There are also some who fight for reproductive autonomy referring to the history of various forces, from enslavement to churches and the government, who took away the right of reproductive choices in the Black community.
Lee joined the Freedom Socialist Party in 2016 where she also became a part of the Comrades of Color Caucus. This is not her first time fighting for justice.
“I feel like I’ve been an activist my whole life,” Lee said. “I did engage in some pro-choice activism in college and did some fundraising and donation seeking for Planned Parenthood in my mid-twenties, but the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice has been the most hands-on and rewarding abortion activism I’ve ever had the privilege to do.”
Last year, Lee joined Radical Women after working with the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice.
“The experience of organizing for reproductive justice with a group of radical organizers was like no other feminist organizing I had ever experienced and I needed to be a closer part of it,” Lee continued. “I want Black people and all people to be able to have control over their reproduction and their futures. It means that we address and end medical and environmental racism and that we ensure medically sound sex education and self-determination for folks with disabilities. It also means that queer and trans families’ rights are respected and protected. And that we all have the means to have the families we want to have through strong unions.”
Although access to abortion clinics in California is fairly accessible, it might not be the case for every woman, as it depends on various factors.
“For people who live in areas with fewer abortion providers, every restriction makes it harder for people to access reproductive health care,” Lee said. “As always, for people with limited resources, abortion isn’t always easy to access.”
“Despite the continual attempts by conservative parties to block and vilify abortion access, we know that abortion is health care—and it’s enjoyed favorable public opinion for years, including within the Black community,” State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-30) said in a statement. “It’s more important than ever to find innovative ways to support and invest in abortion access in L.A. County and beyond, and I am proud to be authoring SB 1245, which will create and fund an abortion access pilot program for the county.
“In California, just as in LA, we will never step back from the fight to expand abortion access, follow the principles of reproductive justice, and further health equity,” Kamlager said.
In Los Angeles, the group “Black Women Rally For Action” has stated to be supportive of reproductive justice.
“Our focus is on working to ensure that all Black women have quality health, education, and economic resources to make the best decisions for the health and well-being of themselves and their families,” said Efuru Flowers, co-founder of Black Women Rally For Action. She started her Los Angeles County organization after a 2019 health report card revealed poor outcomes for Black women.