Every time it comes up I always get the same reaction. Why?
The curious point is that there is a strong division, perhaps even animosity, between birthing rights and reproductive rights. Many people in the birthing rights movement are anti-choice, some quite sternly so. This is continually surprising to folks inside and outside of reproductive justice, and as I ponder why this divide came to be I think a great deal of it stems from the beginnings of the women’s movement. Going back as far as Susan B. Anthony, who is cited again and again for her anti-choice stance, we see that even at Seneca Falls, over a hundred years before Roe v. Wade, there was division over abortion.
Fast-forward to the more immediate basis of the division, second wave of feminism—the Equal Rights Amendment, Roe, and Bra Burning Women’s Lib. At its core it was a white women’s movement grounded in privilege, the right to Choice. To choose your destiny, your profession, your goals, and make decisions about your body, mind, and soul.
What if Choice was beyond your reach? What if you didn’t have the foundation of privilege (in one of what of its many forms) to be able to choose any of those things? Where did those women fit in?
There is a pretty clear consensus that sees the women left behind by Choice, particularly low-income women of color, as the momentum that created reproductive justice. Often we forget about all the other groups excluded at this pivotal moment, and the many other iterations of this so-called women’s movement that were created then. Dare I say it, like the birthing rights folks. Where was the space for birth in a dialogue centered on abortion?
Which brings us to today. Many of these strains of the “women’s movement” still are very much separated from one another, and yet much has changed. Reproductive justice is finally truly taking flight, and I would go so far to say is creating one of the first real opportunities to undo some of this historical movement damage and reunite these clearly inextricably tied movements.
Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice defines reproductive justice as, “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.”
We see here that it is so much more than reproductive and sexual health. There are echoes of everything from human rights to economic justice. A gender exclusion remains BUT it is about the whole woman, all aspects of her being. We are now empowering women through their lifetime. Pushing for the tools to create the space for women to make their own decisions about all parts of her life. And it is here that I see the room for reunion, as many others in reproductive justice do.
In 2007, National Advocates for Pregnant Women brought these movements together for a National Summit to Ensure the Health and Humanity of Pregnant and Birthing Women. It is one of the first very public instances where we saw pregnant women in their full spectrum. Recognizing pregnancy as a part of both abortion and birth is so obvious, yet it remains revolutionary. We so rarely think of the pregnancy of the women aborting or the choice every woman who carries to term must make whether it is subconscious or not.
Beyond this we are now seeing new organizations like Choices in Childbirth coming from a birthing rights frame embracing reproductive justice. Among the advocacy sources they reference on their website are SisterSong, National Latina Institute, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women. This was unthinkable previously.
So I propose to push this model further, to not only reach across the aisle and recognize our common ground, but to advocate as one. For women who give birth, for those who don’t, for those who want to but can’t, for those who adopt, for those who abstain, for those who abort, and for those in need. Because really isn’t that what reproductive justice is all about?