Reproductive justice is a woman-of-color-created framework that defines “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” Unlike frameworks which center “choice” in discussions of reproductive issues, reproductive justice centers access, interrogating the power structures that oppress marginalized people and further deprive them of that access. Gender, race, and class economics all affect that analysis.
For decades, reproductive issues—abortion access, paid parental leave, birth control coverage—have been sidelined in politics as “women’s issues” and discussed in isolation. This has been done intentionally by those who oppose reproductive justice, and indirectly, by feminist groups who fail to use an intersectional lens. Firstly, the term “women’s issues” is cisnormative: women and people who can get pregnant are a Venn diagram—overlapping, but not the same category. And this framing also minimizes reproductive justice as a “social issue” which is supposedly disconnected from and less important than economic issues.
Because reproductive justice is rooted in the belief that individuals and communities should have the resources and power needed to make their own decisions about their families, bodies, and lives, reproductive justice requires (among other things), economic power. Having or not having a child is one of the largest economic changes in a person’s life. As of 2015, in the United States, the lifetime cost of having one child is nearly a quarter of a million dollars, making it one of the most costly life expenses possible. If you have a child, when you have children, and how many children you have are some of the biggest economic forks in the road of someone’s life. This isn’t necessary, or accidental: our privatized health care system ensures that pre-natal care, birth, and delivery are extremely expensive. And that’s before you get to the costs associated with childcare and education.
But the financial implications of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood represent isn’t the whole story. Not everyone has the privilege to make those financial and/or reproductive decisions freely—unlike frameworks of “choice, reproductive justice acknowledges that reproduction is deeply linked with issues of class and socioeconomic inequity. Every reproductive issue, from access to birth control to the ability to raise a child safely, is heavily influenced (if not outright determined) by socioeconomic status. The same decision—to seek abortion services, for example—looks completely different to a wealthy person than to someone with much less money. A poor person is less likely to be able to take time off work, afford transportation to a clinic, pay for childcare during the procedure, and have health care coverage — and all of these come into play before figuring out how to pay for the abortion itself.
Of course, health insurance coverage is defined by economics (and race) as well. In DC, “[n]early 1 in 7 Hispanic residents (13.5%) have no health insurance compared with 1 in 15 (11.8%) Black residents, and 1 in 30 (3.5%) White residents.” As for the little over 35% of DC residents who have public coverage, a majority are women and people of color, and are explicitly barred from abortion coverage by the Hyde amendment. These layers and layers of oppression come together to compound the inequities that reproductive justice intends to eradicate.
Additionally, in many areas in the U.S. where poverty is concentrated, those costs are exacerbated by anti-choice laws, like those that mandate waiting periods (requiring another visit to the clinic) or trans-vaginal ultrasounds (another procedure to pay for). Reproductive issues can’t be separated from economic ones.
As the reproductive justice framework states, reproductive issues and economics are inextricably connected. Socioeconomic status—as intensified by race, gender, and other identity factors—determines one’s ability to make reproductive choices with the freedom and autonomy everyone deserves. And not having the financial freedom to make decisions about birth control, abortion and parenthood in turn affects one’s finances, further trapping people in poverty. The reproductive justice framework sees, and seeks to dismantle, the entire interconnected system of oppression—not discuss one issue as though it exists in isolation.
– by volunteer Kate. This reflects the views of the author.
Ohio, my home state, recently became the third this year alone to pass an extreme so-called “heartbeat” bill, which bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected — sometimes just six weeks into a pregnancy. Ohio’s new governor, Mike DeWine, signed the bill into law earlier this month.
Former DCAF president Kersha Deibel, who is now President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region said it well:
“Politicians in the Ohio State Legislature just passed one of the most extreme abortion bans in the entire country. And they’re not stopping there –– after years of passing anti-abortion laws under the guise of protecting patient health and safety, they lay bare their true motives: to ban abortion in the state of Ohio. Politicians have no right to dictate personal medical decisions. Make no mistake –– these bills punish women. When politicians attack health care, they disproportionately impact people of color, women, the LGBTQ community and young people. We must work to ensure access to health care does not depend on who you are, where you live, or how much money you make.”
Versions of this dangerous “heartbeat bill” have also been passed in Georgia, Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky, and Mississippi.
Let’s be honest here: most people don’t even know yet that they are pregnant at six weeks. That’s only two weeks after a missed period, when the fetus is the size of a pea. Even more disturbing: the new Ohio law makes no exceptions for rape or incest.
Six-week bans were once considered extreme even by some anti-abortion groups, and Ohio’s previous governor, Republican John Kasich, called the ban “blatantly unconstitutional” after vetoing it twice.
But with the recent dramatic right turn of the Supreme Court, Roe vs. Wade is in greater danger than ever of being overturned entirely. Anti-abortion groups have been emboldened by the Trump administration, especially radical Vice President Mike Pence, who vowed to see the end of legal abortion “in our time.” At a time when countries like Ireland are expanding abortion access, the United States is rapidly turning back the clock on reproductive rights, along with threatening the LGBT community, people of color, and Indigenous peoples.
The new law will, of course, be challenged in court, subjecting the taxpayers of Ohio to lengthy and expensive legal battles. The ACLU and Ohio abortion providers are already planning to sue the state. But, with anti-choice judges such as Brett Kavanaugh now in lifetime appointments, taking this battle all the way to the Supreme Court is exactly what many anti-choice extremists are hoping for.
With the far right fighting against better sex education and increased access to birth control, along with the shrinking number of healthcare centers that offer abortion services (for example, Ohio has 8, down from 17 in 2014), a perfect storm is brewing that will prove disastrous for families around the country.
That is why I’m proud to be a DCAF volunteer. We will continue to help provide support for pregnant people in our community and the increasing number of people who must travel to the DC area to seek abortions. No matter what happens.
By volunteer Molly C. This blog reflects the views of the author.
Angry? Emotionally drained? Fired up to fight back? So are we.
The past few weeks were rough for many of us, especially for survivors. But we’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere.
From the very beginning, we knew Brett Kavanaugh was a dangerous pick for the Supreme Court — and not just because he’s signaled his view on access to abortion. He’s made clear that access to birth control, LGBTQ equality, immigrant rights, and voting rights will all be in jeopardy.
Not to mention that he’s been accused of sexual assault and misconduct — an act that should itself disqualify him from ever becoming a Supreme Court justice — by multiple women.
We’ve already seen more people traveling to the DC area for abortion care because of increased restrictions in their state (many are already living in a post-Roe world), and we only expect the demand to grow, especially with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.
But no matter what happens after he joins the bench, we will always be committed to working together with you — our community of supporters — to make abortion accessible.
It’s been a rough few weeks following the Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
From the very beginning, we knew Brett Kavanaugh was a dangerous pick for the Supreme Court. If he’s confirmed, it’s very likely that Roe v. Wade would be overturned and more than 20 states would quickly ban abortion in most or all circumstances.
He’s made clear that access to birth control, LGBTQ equity, immigrant rights, and voting rights will all be in jeopardy.
And now, he has been accused of sexual assault — an act that should itself disqualify him from ever becoming a Supreme Court justice.
Everyone’s been asking you to call your senator or sign a petition — and you might be thinking, “but I live in DC! What can I do to stop Kavanaugh?”
Here’s three things you can do right now:
DCAF supporters and leaders are speaking up in front of the White House, at the steps of the Supreme Court, and on the phone with their senators to #StopKavanaugh.
And they’re donating to DCAF (over $3,000 during our Taco or Beer Challenge alone last week!) because they know our work is more important than ever. Our supporters know that no matter what happens, our patients will count on DCAF and its incredible volunteers to make sure people will still be able to access abortion care. Will you join them?
Reproductive rights activists worry that, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed to the Supreme Court, there is a very real possibility that Roe v. Wade may be overturned. Without federal constitutional protection, a person’s ability to obtain an abortion would rest with the states, 19 of which adopted anti-abortion laws in 2017.
While there are no abortion-related initiatives or state constitutional amendments on midterm ballots in the DMV*, Virginia, and Maryland have both placed restrictions on abortion access since 2011 — and you can view a database of the laws, people, organizations, and litigation involved in sexual and reproductive health and justice in the United States here.
In addition to coverage from organizations like the DC Abortion Fund and from news outlets like Rewire.News, websites for local government are getting better at making legislation searchable. Here are the most recent abortion measures considered by the DC, Maryland, and Virginia legislatures:
The Abortion Provider Non-Discrimination Act of 2017 is currently under Council Review. It would make it illegal under the D.C. Human Rights Act to fire a healthcare professional for participating in or expressing support for abortion care.
Of six abortion-related measures introduced to the General Assembly this session, only HB 787/SB 629 was successfully enacted. Effective October 1, 2018 this law will mandate medical care for pregnant inmates in Maryland correctional facilities. This will guarantee access to a wide range of provisions, such as counseling, prenatal testing, abortion services, labor and delivery care, and child placement services.
However, Maryland’s budget bill included a provision stating that Medicaid reimbursements for abortions would be limited to cases of “fetal impairment” cases where a pregnant person’s life or health is endangered, or pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch has argued for a state constitutional amendment to protect abortion access, but this wouldn’t appear on the ballot until 2020.
Several bills aimed at increasing abortion access failed to move forward. HB 1231/SB 910 proposed a fundamental right for pregnant people to obtain an abortion and was “passed by indefinitely.” HB 450 called for repeal of the law requiring physicians to perform an ultrasound and obtain informed written consent from a pregnant person before performing an abortion. SB 133 similarly called for an end to the written consent requirement, proposing that a pregnant person may waive in writing this requirement, but was “passed by indefinitely.” SB 292 proposed that the Board of Health fund abortions for survivors of incest or rape who reported their rape or incest to a public health agency and qualified for public assistance, but was also passed by indefinitely.
By volunteer Rebecca K.
Generally speaking, abortion laws tend to not be very liberal in the developing world. In contrast, Ethiopia has surprisingly liberal abortion laws that were introduced in the early 2000s that allow for abortion in the cases of rape, incest, risk to the life of the pregnant person, fetal abnormalities, and if the pregnant person is too young to care for a child.
This liberalization was mostly due to high records of unsafe abortion-related deaths; however, Ethiopia does not require proof of any of these considerations, allowing pregnant patients to obtain abortions with relative ease if a clinic is nearby and if doctors agree to perform the procedure. Moreover, the clinics do not impose any mandatory waiting periods, and many doctors recommend getting an abortion within three days of asking and being deemed eligible to receive one.
The government allegedly did this to appease the family planning, women’s rights advocates, and religious groups on either side of the abortion issue. Yet, abortion services are affected when developing countries receive aid from certain countries, notably the U.S.
Turning to the U.S., the Helms Amendment, also known as the Global Gag Rule, was first enacted in 1973, and it prohibited any U.S. aid going to NGOs in foreign countries if abortions were performed or promoted in that country This law was repealed by President Obama, but it still complicated safe abortion efforts in foreign countries as NGOs were confused by the new allowances that took effect during the years the law was revoked. That all changed within a few days that the Trump administration took over in 2017, and reimposed — as well as expanded — the Global Gag Rule to block health assistance to all foreign NGOs that use their own funding to offer abortion-related services.
This funding restriction on abortion conflicts with Ethiopia’s abortion laws and restricts what NGOs can do, effectively discriminating against pregnant people who are seeking an abortion just because they live in a country that receives U.S. foreign aid. It impacts people in developing countries by limiting their access to abortion, even though it is legal where they live. This harmful policy undermines the very goal of U.S. foreign aid organizations, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, by directly and negatively affecting the health of people in poorer countries, while also “violating medical ethics and trampling on democratic values.”
To help people who live overseas receive the access to abortion they legally deserve, we as Americans must continue to advocate for abortion as a right and a medical health issue here in the U.S. — to protect our citizens’ rights and those of global citizens.
By volunteer Sarah T.
This past January I became a DC Abortion Fund case manager. I did this because I feel passionately about the right to choose, and being able to exercise this choice in your own community. These values overlap with my day job at Catholics for Choice where we advocate for a person’s moral and legal right to abortion access globally.
On May 25, Ireland took a historic step and overwhelmingly voted to repeal the 8th Amendment, which equated the life of a pregnant person with that of an embryo or fetus and criminalized abortion except if continuing a pregnancy would result in certain death.
While in college, I spent a summer living and working in Dublin, Ireland. From my first weekend in the Longford countryside, I was struck by just how welcoming and kind the Irish people were. Nearly everyone I met was eager to discuss political and justice issues. Given that this was the summer of 2016, there was certainly no shortage of topics.
I met and worked with Irish women who were strong, passionate, and deeply concerned about equality. Some shared my interest in reproductive rights; frequently leading us to discussions on the dark history of the 8th Amendment, and the emotional and financial burdens that traveling abroad for abortion care imposes. Many of these stories — from the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar to the X case — were new, and deeply alarming, to me. The ban on abortion seemed so out of step with the compassionate Ireland I was welcomed into.
Historically, the Catholic hierarchy has exerted a strong hand in Ireland, as demonstrated by their role in the introduction of the 8th Amendment in 1983. Since then, Irish Catholics have questioned both the Catholic hierarchy’s views and its role in a secular state. These Catholics have evolved in their positions on abortion.
On May 25, 66 percent of Irish people voted to repeal the 8th Amendment. Voters overwhelmingly said that they trust women with their lives, their bodies, and their futures. In a predominantly Catholic country, this vote reaffirmed what has always been true — Catholics can be, and are, prochoice.
Together for Yes, and activists across Ireland, ran a campaign built on compassion. They succeeded in lifting the stigma and silence surrounding abortion. Catholics discussed their faith and their values, and ultimately came together to support people seeking an abortion. Both men (65.9 percent) and women (72.1 percent) voted for abortion access at home in Ireland. People of all ages voted yes, with an astounding 87.6 percent of voters aged 18-24 standing up for the right to choose. Even rural constituencies, like Longford, voted for Repeal in impressive margins.
Ahead of the referendum, you could see thousands of Irish citizens traveling to vote Yes on #HometoVote. And while they were coming home, on average nine people a day were leaving Ireland for an abortion in the UK. Thankfully, this will soon be over.
The Irish referendum filled me with hope that this momentous example will inspire further progress in favor of abortion access both at home and abroad. We will certainly continue fighting to make this a reality.
By volunteer Casey B.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is on shaky ground.
Part of my daytime job is to monitor and report out all the latest news on CHIP, and let me tell you, it’s not always a pretty picture. Since running out of funding earlier this fall, the health coverage of 9 million kids and teens under 19 years old is now up in the air.* Despite promises to extend CHIP, Jimmy Kimmel’s heartfelt pleas, and tons and tons of research showing the impact of inaction, several states are now warning families that, hey, they might need to look elsewhere for their children’s routine check-ups, immunizations, and prescriptions.
It’s not a good look to begin with: throwing vulnerable communities into a lurch and deepening their hole into poverty as things like rent and utility bills and groceries are traded in just to get the essential health care services they absolutely deserve.
Is that a bleak picture for you? Well, it gets a little worse. Did you know CHIP also plays an extremely important role in reproductive health care for these low-income kids and teens?
In the United States, nearly all of teen pregnancies are unplanned. One report from the Guttmacher Institute has the number as high as 75 percent! (And even more harrowing, teens in the low-income brackets are more likely to become pregnant, which is the exact demographic CHIP covers.) But through initiatives like CHIP, all teens—regardless of income—can have access to the reproductive health services they need. Which, in my view, is really awesome.
It’s a well known fact that women who decide to become pregnant and have access to quality family planning information are better prepared for the demands of a pregnancy. But let’s face it: not all things can be carefully planned. That’s where prevention comes in. Sadly, low-income kids, teens, and their families are more often than not the ones who cannot afford access to reproductive health care and the resources to prevent unintended pregnancies. But CHIP helps to bridge that gap!
From routine gynecologic exams to sexuality education and pregnancy testing to pregnancy care, CHIP helps prevent pregnancies in the first place, and, if they happen, helps these teens have better delivery, healthier babies, and healthier lives. Ultimately, it’s a win-win: reducing the rates of unintended pregnancies for teens in low-income communities leads to huge net public savings. For example, in 2010, publicly funded family planning services saved over $15 billion bucks.
With all these amazing things that CHIP does, it’s mind-boggling that funding hasn’t been extended. If our elected officials can’t reach agreement on extending funding for CHIP, they are taking away low-income adolescents’ access to basic reproductive health services. Again, not a good look.
*CHIP covers 9 million uninsured, low-income children whose parents earn too much for Medicaid, but not enough to afford other types of private coverage. Learn more about CHIP.
By volunteer Kaitlyn B.
Kaitlyn is the Communications Specialist at Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.