Reproductive Justice and Reducing the Number of Abortions
[Authors Note: I started this blog post on an older blog and imported the draft here. I am addressing a few points, but know there are many more. Further, I want to acknowledge that it is not just ciswomen who can get pregnant, but also trans-men, and those who are genderqueer or gender-non-conforming. Futher, not all families consist of two care caretakers, and caretakers can be of any or no gender.]
It really bugs me when I am escorting, and see protestors trying to convince a person who is pregnant to rethink their decision to have an abortion. Believe me, these people have thought long and hard about this, and it is insulting when others insist that these people have not thought about it at all.
Unfortunately, these are the same people who think that women have children just to get more food stamps. I hope that this list finds it way to some of those people, so they can find out the most effective ways of preventing abortion. [Hint: it is not by passing arcane laws that stipulate waiting periods of ridiculous length and forcing people who are pregnant and seeking abortion care to listen to lectures on Jesus, you know you you are.]
I have made a list of some of the goals of the reproductive justice movement, which, if implemented, would actually dramatically reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, and hence, the number of abortions. Many peoplehave tried to define reproductive justice, and I believe that it encompasses the whole person, and most importantly, having people be able to make reproductive choices completely and fully, without being pressured by outside injustices, such as lack of access, lack of finances, or stigma.
To be clear, I don’t think there is a “good” number of abortions, there should be as many abortions as are needed. Saying we need less implies that abortion should be limited, and therefore stigmatized. Abortion is neutral, it is a medical procedure. We don’t go saying there should be less of this medical procedure or that medical procedure. But, we should work to create less unintended pregnancies, and help people who want to continue a pregnancy be able to do so, just as we should work to make sure people who need to terminate pregnancies are able to do so.
1.) Comprehensive sex education. This is always at the top of any list. If people are having sex with condoms, the likely hood they will get pregnant within the year is roughly 15%. The Pill, if taken like a human (meaning you make mistakes), is 93% effective at preventing pregnancy. If we teach people how to use these methods of birth control, how to use them effectively, how to figure out which form of birth control is right for them, then we decrease the number of people who find themselves with unintended pregnancies. If people aren’t getting pregnant unintentionally, then those people don’t need abortions. Another part of comprehensive sex education should be learning how to treat your partner with respect, and not making demands on them for sex if they feel uncomfortable with it. A part of comprehensive sex education should be teaching them how to know if they are having sex for the right reasons, and not because of pressure from other people.
2.) Paid maternity leave with job security. Oops, you find yourself being that odd statistic out. You are one of those 7 people out of 100 that gets pregnant while on the pill. What is one of your first concerns? Probably if you can take the 2 weeks before you deliver off of work, or if your boss is going to freak out and just fire you. If you have a cool boss, your next questions is if you can afford to take those two weeks off, and the subsequent weeks after that you will want to take off. Can you schedule prenatal appointments around your work schedule? If not, can you take that time off? Can you go a month without a pay check? Probably not. If people did not have to worry about whether being pregnant would cost them their job, and were assured a pay check while taking off, the financial burden of having a child would not be so great. More people would feel confident that they could take off of work to see the OB/GYN and make sure the pregnancy is healthy. More people would feel confident that they could take the time off to bond with the child, and still be able to afford to feed the child. We need to start passing laws that mandate that all employers provide their employees with paid maternity and paternity leave, with their job security assured while they are away.
3.) Free pre-/post-natal care. A person who is pregnant is often shamed if they do not take their pre-natal vitamins every single day, with their ability to parent called into question. Women are called horrible mothers if they don’t see the OB/GYN with regular frequency while pregnant. But some people also have jobs that don’t allow them any time off to do so, or have jobs that don’t pay them enough to be able to afford the luxuries of vitamins.If we have a system set up that allowed a person who is pregnant free access to pre and post natal care, people would not be intimidated by a pregnancy and the huge cost of being pregnant. Pregnancy is not a walk in the park, it can have huge health risks, and devastating consequences if something goes wrong. It is a medical condition that needs to be monitored.
4.) Improved funding for programs like WIC and SCHIP. If you expect a person who is pregnant to carry to term, even when s/he/ze demonstrates that s/he/ze does not have the financial means to do so, you better be advocating for WIC and SCHIP. These programs help the parent provide for the child. So, again, you think the fetus is a precious life, you better help protect that precious life when it is outside of the womb. If a parent is struggling to pay rent, and working two jobs, the least that can be done is to make sure “paying for a doctors visit for my child” and “paying for baby food” are not two of the worries. If s/he/ze has to worry about these things, or knows that if s/he/ze continues the pregnancy s/he/ze will have to worry about these things, s/he/ze is not going to want to continue the pregnancy. They know that they cannot provide for children at this time. So they abort, and wait until they are financially sound enough to shower a future child with love and gifts. If we took some of the stress of providing doctors visits and food off of the person who is pregnant or parenting, they would probably be less likely to abort, knowing that their potential child will have the basics.
5.) Free day/night care. Parents have to work. I know parents who go to work every day, and paying for day care takes half of their paycheck. And these are parents who are taking their children to the cheapest of the cheap day care. Having free day/night care would allow parents to make sure all of their paycheck goes toward taking care of the child. Not every parent can take her child to a grandparent, or a sister, or an aunt. Better yet, make sure every single company provides a day care. Yes, even McDonalds. A person who is facing an unintended pregnancy will wonder if s/he/ze can still work. But s/he/ze has to work if s/he/ze wants to pay for a child. But at the same time, can s/he/ze really afford daycare? Even if she works 16 hours a day? I reiterate, most abortions happen because the person who is pregnant says they cannot afford to have a child. S/he/ze isn’t being selfish. S/he/ze is thinking of that potential child, and if it will have a good life. If we provide people in these situations with job security, paid leave, free day care, and financial assistance for food and health care, then maybe more people who would want to continue a pregnancy to term, would be able to do so.
6.) End discrimination against pregnant people. It exists, and it is a lot more than having someone look at your belly, and then immediately look for a ring. Pregnant people need to have rights. Otherwise, they are fired or asked to have an abortion. Pregnant people face harsh working conditions and hostile employers. According to a recent study by Center for WorkLife Law, most low wage women work several jobs at asocial hours and piece together child care. These jobs are more rigid, and more likely to have no paid sick leave. Pregnant workers are fired on the spot or immediately after their bosses find out they are pregnant, pregnant employees are banned from certain positions no matter what their qualifications are, and are often denied the small cost effective measures that would allow them to continue to work during their pregnancy. Young mothers, teen mothers, are oftenbullied and face additional shame, stigma, and lack of support.
7.) End discrimination against people with children. (Caveat: people who identify as men are often given more flexibility than caregivers who identify as women, and I will be using “woman” in this section, as it is what the cited study looks at. I could not find data for trans* or gender non comforming caregivers, if you know of any, leave it in the comments!) The same study points out that women with caregiving duties are also held to impossible standards of attendance and scheduling, with no flexibility for justifiable time off for care giving duties. The debate surrounding low-income women is often on how to get mothers off of welfare and into work. However, in many cases, the woman is ready and willing to work, but finds herself in work place environments that are hostile to her and ignore her need to also be a care-giver. The focus should be on making sure workplaces are willing to work with mothers and not unduly discriminate against them. These low wage jobs undercut the woman’s ability to provide for both herself and her child. What woman facing an unwanted pregnancy would want to risk either her potential child’s wellbeing, knowing she works for a hostile boss, or risk her job all together, which would severely hinder her ability to take care of a child? Women facing this dilemma would most likely abort.
8.) End the mega-mommy myth. This is the myth that women (cis women, as in this myth trans* people do not exist) belong in the home. That after trying out that work place thing, women have /chosen/ (choice, it must be feminist!) to go back to the home, to go back to child-rearing, and that women then find the most fulfillment in child-rearing. The mommy myth was articulated in the book “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined Women” by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels. This myth shames women who work. This myth tells women who work and child-rear that they are hurting their children, that they are being horrible mothers, and they should never have been allowed to procreate in the first place. This is a malicious myth [read: lie] that guilts women who do have to work into feeling bad about having to work. Women who get abortions usually know they will have to work, they know they will have to juggle a child and a job. [These are usually low-income women, they don’t have ‘careers’ – they have a string of part time jobs, mostly because they are discriminated again for various reasons]. When the whole world is telling them that they will be bad mothers from the get-go, why would they even want to carry a pregnancy to term? Who seriously wants to be a bad mother? An article that made me bristle like a she-lion has one woman saying that we need to “empower more women” to be stay at home moms. Really? Let’s couch it in feminist language, and make it look nice! This is not empowerment. This is subtly telling women that they have to stay at home, and making it look nice by saying that staying at home is “empowering.” Some women have to work. Some women want to work. And you can both work and be a mom, even if some people say giving over care to another person while you are at work is going to result in “generation of spoiled, selfish, socially unconscious, ungrateful brats running around in twenty years.” We need to end this myth, and make sure women who want to work, or need to work, are able to without the guilt and the shame. I don’t judge you for how you want to manage your family, don’t judge mine. At the same time, we need to break down the gender binary that assigns roles based on a persons gender (some of whom were coercively assigned a gender), allowing for people of all or no genders to decide how to divide labor within a community.
9.) Dismantle the current foster care system. One of the tactics of anti-abortion advocates is to create Crisis Pregnancy Centers, or Pregnancy Resource Centers where, in a lot of cases, they spend the first 24 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy telling her how good of a mother she will be. Once she is past the point of being able to obtain a legal abortion, they change gears, telling her the only loving option is to put her child up for adoption, other wise Child Protective Services will take her child away and put it in the foster care system. The last part, sadly, is not too far from the truth. Many women know what they can and cannot offer the children the already have, and are terrified that the often racist and classist child protective services will do. I will direct you here for more on how the CPS agencies more often then not remove children from their mothers not for abuse or neglect, but for purely racist or classist ideas that poor women or women of color are not fit to be mothers. Which is bullshit. These children are then shuffled from one temporary home to another, with little to no actual love and support. If you want a woman to choose to carry to term, you better be damned sure she doesn’t have this fear in the back of her mind.
10.) Improve funding for pro-birth mother adoption programs/end adoption discrimination. Only a handful of states have laws that make open adoption contracts enforceable. Many women who choose to carry to term and place the child for adoption would like an open adoption, but fear that the adoptive parents might try to close that relationship off. Further, many current adoption agencies (mostly run by anti-abortion groups) fail to provide appropriate information to the pregnant woman about her rights. Many states have a 24 hours waiting period between when the woman gives birth, and when the adoptive parents can take the child home. During this time the woman may change her mind. That is her right. However,these anti-abortion agencies more often then not convince the woman to sign away this waiting period. Adoption has to be pro-birth mom. She is the one carrying to term, she is the one giving birth, and she is the one who therefore should have supports in place. One of my personal pro-choice, pro-birth mom heroes, Christina Page, founded the Adoption Access Network, a national network of pro-birth mom adoption agencies. According to Page,
“We believe women who are considering adoption deserve high-quality care, accurate information in a non-coercive environment. Because there is a lack of information, as a result of the pro-life movement having a near monopoly on adoption resources, this has been a group of women [women who are interested in adoption] who have been neglected.
Adoption can be a very shadowy, sketchy field in which sometimes people with ulterior motives work under the guise of serving women but really have an interest in what a woman does with her pregnancy. But, here’s the thing about the Adoption Access Network. The only interest we have is that she has all her choices available to her.”
Adoption is not an alternative to abortion. To say so is to cheapen both choices. Adoption is a parenting decision. When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, a woman has two choices: to carry to term, or to not carry to term. If she chooses to carry to term, she has two choices: to raise the child herself, or to place it for adoption. If you want a woman to carry to term, then both parenting decisions (self parent, or adopt) must be available to her. Many laws on the books make adoption a highly coercive and anti-birth mom decision. If the woman decides to plan an adoption, the agency she is working with should have all options open to her for parents, including gay and lesbian parents, and potentially single parents. Many faith-based anti-abortion agencies only allow the birth mother a moderate amount of control in who will adopt her child. They pre-screen all potential adoptive parents to make sure they are the right religion, the right life style, ect. Something that a lot of CPC and anti-abortion adoption agencies do not handle well, that the agencies who are part of AAN do handle well, is post-adoption counseling for all parties involved (birth mother, adoptive parents, and the adopted child). Feelings post-adoption can range and v
11.) End restrictions on access to birth control. This means free birth control to all women who could potentially get pregnant, on demand. A clinical study conducted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concluded:
We noted a clinically and statistically significant reduction in abortion rates, repeat abortions, and teenage birth rates. Unintended pregnancies may be reduced by providing no-cost contraception and promoting the most effective contraceptive methods.
More birth control, less unintended pregnancies, less need for abortion. It’s really simple.
According to the National Advocate for Pregnant Women, we need to
reiterate the reproductive justice message that women should be the final decision makers for what happens to their own bodies, and should be trusted that they are making these decisions based on the needs of their family and the information available to them, and not convenience, selfishness, or media fads, as rhetoric suggests. [And therefore] bring the reproductive justice movement’s intersectional analysis to birthing activism by have conversations with birth activist organizations about the role that privilege plays in having a healthy birth free from coercion.
Allowing women to choose whom they want to attend the birth, how they want to birth, and where they want to birth can help eliminate stress and lead to a less complicated delivery. As long as a woman is getting consistent prenatal check ups, most women can safely deliver with a midwife or doula, at a birthing center. Birthing centers, doulas, and midwives can be more affordable, and just as safe as hospital delivery.
13.) Push back against proposed laws and repeal laws in effect that could criminalize doctors and persons who are pregnant for poor birth outcomes: As anti-choice politicians and lobbyist attempt to put into effect legislation that grants legal rights to embryos and fetuses in attempts to outlaw abortion, more states are using these laws to jail, detain, and punish women with poor birth outcomes. The most prominent is the Bei Bei Shuai case, where a woman is facing murder charges because her daughter died a few days after birth. There are many other cases where women have had medical intervention forced upon them against their direct wishes, and have faced civil commitment for refusing care. We must end this, for if a pregnant person fears jail or forced medical treatment, abortion would absolve the state of any interest in the pregnancy.