Reproductive Justice

Moving Beyond “Pro-Life” & “Pro-Choice”

February 15, 2011

La'tasha Mayes and Bekezela Mguni of New Voices Pittsburgh (La'tasha Mayes and Bekezela Mguni of New Voices Pittsburgh, via NVP Facebook) At The Root La'Tasha Mayes, executive director of Third Wave grant partner New Voices Pittsburgh, breaks down the ways our beliefs around abortion go beyond the oppositional frame of "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice:

La'Tasha Mayes, executive director of the activist group New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, says that frequent descriptions of African Americans as conservative and pro-life are an overgeneralization. She argues that it's time the country moved beyond the pro-life versus pro-choice binary of the abortion debate. "It's a limiting concept that says the choices that black women make are black and white. It's not that simple," Mayes told The Root, adding that the broader reproductive-justice movement -- for access to health insurance, family-planning services and abortion -- includes women with nuanced positions who identify as both pro-life and pro-choice. "I've learned that it's about people's individual experiences," she says. "Regardless of her politics and religion, if a woman does not want to have a child, she will not have a child. But the message from opponents of abortion is that we can't be trusted to make these decisions for ourselves and our families. They want to shame black women for the choices we have to make, mostly out of survival." Mayes rejects the idea that black women are being targeted for abortion, arguing that the conversation lacks a full sense of perspective. "The leap from abortion to black genocide is missing many steps in between," she says. "We can't look at abortion in isolation, as if it's a choice made independently from the context in which black women live. "After years of doing this work, I've realized that abortion becomes a choice for women when they have been socially, economically and politically marginalized in complex systems of oppression," she continues. "If you're not talking about race, class, sex and gender issues before you start talking about abortion, then you're missing the larger context."

Posted in: Blog, Criminalization, Healthcare, Media, New Voices Pittsburgh, Reproductive Justice

New Voices Pittsburgh: “Pregnancy Is Not a Crime”

December 9, 2010

Pregnancy Is Not a Crime This November, New Voices Pittsburgh, a reproductive justice and human rights organization and one of Third Wave's grant partners, held a speak-out in honor of Amy Lynn Gillespie, who died in the Allegheny County Jail in January. Amy had been sentenced to jail when she became pregnant while serving parole. While in jail, she was denied medical treatment for pneumonia by guards, and died three weeks later. Her family has since filed a lawsuit against the jail. In their campaign of support, New Voices states:

The recently filed lawsuit against the Allegheny County Jail must draw our attention to the grave Reproductive Justice issues and fatal Human Rights violations affecting incarcerated women. The allegations about the conditions in Allegheny County Jail raised in this lawsuit are of serious concern to New Voices Pittsburgh and our allies. The death of Amy Lynn Gillespie was seemingly preventable with basic medical care and reproductive healthcare. The death of any pregnant woman from preventable causes is reproductive injustice and is especially egregious in the custody of the Allegheny County Jail. We challenge the coercive and intrusive practice of conditioning work release on not getting pregnant. We must expose the criminalization of women and pregnancy as a threat to Human Rights that risks women’s health and women’s lives.
Since January of this year, NVP has been working on their FOCUS on Women Campaign, a community organizing initiative led by New Voices Pittsburgh to address the Reproductive Justice and Human Rights issues of incarcerated women in the Allegheny County Jail. "Our strategy for public policy change led to the passage of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1074, the “Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act” in July through the efforts of our allied organizations," says NVP. "Our campaign produced the Policymaker Leadership Institute with the Urban Initiative for Reproductive Health to “Protect the Rights of Incarcerated Women to Reproductive Health Care” in October." You can find photos from their march and speak-out, as well as updates on how you can support their campaign, at New Voice's Facebook page.

Posted in: Actions, Blog, New Voices Pittsburgh, Reproductive Justice

NLIRH & COLOR Kick Off Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice

August 10, 2010

Third Wave grant partners National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, along with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, have teamed up to host the First Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice on August 9-15. Over on the NLIRH blog, folks are sharing their stories about access to sex education and contraception. Here's Rita Martinez, writing on her "So-Called Sex Education":

Like many young Latinas, I never really felt comfortable talking about contraception with my parents; god forbid they think I was “active,” (shudder). This subject matter was only really appropriate among girlfriends and the like, where it was easier to share such experiences. To exacerbate the problem, aside from a couple days of Sex Ed in 6th grade and that dreadful quarter in Freshman Studies, I don’t recall ever having a real opportunity to discuss contraception options. Nay, I became understandably naïve in the matter, which is not to say I didn’t know of birth control, but it definitely did not hold an even “remotely visible” role in my high school scene.
Check out their campaign and learn how share your story, spread the word, take action, and lend support. You can also join in on Twitter by tagging your posts #latinaRJwk, or coming out to events in California, Florida, New York, and Texas.

Posted in: Actions, Blog, COLOR, NLIRH, Reproductive Justice

On Mama’s Day, Recognizing Young Mothers & Strong Families

May 4, 2011

(Video by Strong Families, a project of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice and in collaboration with reproductive justice organizations around the US) Today at The Frisky, Adriann Barboa (director of Young Women United) offers a smart take on how we can support young parents in our communities:

When I see the dismal statistics and negative images our communities are bombarded with, I wonder how many of the negative outcomes are caused not by the age of the parents, but by the stigma heaped on them and the isolation that results? We all know there is nothing inherently wrong with giving birth at 18. Humans have been doing it throughout time; President Barack Obama’s mom did it, every 30-year-old I know has a mother who was “young” by today’s standards. In a generation, the “proper” age to become a parent has changed. Economic security sure helps in raising kids. Having a partner does too. But 40 percent of babies in the US are born to mothers who are not married, and their ages range across the board. The Great Recession has taught us many things, including that we can’t count on financial security at any age. Maybe instead of a National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, with statistics and images that demonize young parents, we could have a National Day to Support Young Parents? We could have a day when service providers, teachers, ministers, and the media celebrate all of the great achievements by young parents and their kids. We could enjoy a day when we are honored for all we have taken on, and all that we have succeeded in doing, when the folks around us ask us how they can best support us, instead of telling us what we should have done differently.
Supporting young people's decisions to parent is a critical piece of ensuring reproductive freedom. In recognition and in celebration of Mother's Day, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) launched their campaign What's the Real Problem?. "We’ve been challenging the stigmatizing narratives that paint young mothers as irresponsible, hopeless, and drains on the state," writes Verónica Bayetti Flores, senior policy analyst at NLIRH. "Young women who choose to become mothers continue to be human, and deserve as much opportunity to lead fulfilling lives as women who delay their pregnancies or choose not to parent at all.

Posted in: Community, NLIRH, Reproductive Justice, Young Women United

Redefining Rape, Forcing Pregnancy: Push Back on HR3

February 1, 2011

This weekend, feminist activists ramped up their opposition to HR3, the so-called "No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act." Speaker of the House John Boehner has called passing this act “one of our highest legislative priorities.” With a coordinated campaign to call Congressional representatives quickly underway (organized over the Twitter hashtag #DearJohn), it's clear reproductive justice activists are determined to push back hard. If passed, HR3 would put the burden on survivors of sexual assault to prove their rape was "forcible" in order to qualify for any public assistance for abortion. As Mother Jones reported last week, this Republican plan to redefine rape isn't just a hateful attack on survivors of violence. It marks a shift in anti-abortion tactics with devastating implications:

"Since 1976, federal law has prohibited the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. But since last year, the anti-abortion side has become far more aggressive in challenging this compromise. They have been pushing to outlaw tax deductions for insurance plans that cover abortion, even if the abortion coverage is never used. The Smith bill represents a frontal attack on these long-standing exceptions."
So in addition to rolling back almost all of the (very few) exceptions for Federal funding of abortion, House Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) are attempting to redefine rape in order to restrict abortion access. Reproductive justice activists have long recognized that sexual violence and abortion access are deeply connected. As a matter of body autonomy, we all should have the power to decide when we want to have sex and when to have children. These attempts to regulate reproductive and sexual health access out of existence aren't just an attack on our rights. They are a form of institutional violence, and they disproportionately impact people of color, low income people, and young women, transgender and gender nonconforming youth. HR3 has 173 co-sponsors. You can find out if your Congressional rep has backed HR3, and give them a call to let them know how HR3 will impact you and your community if it passes. Right now, HR3 is sitting in committee -- there's still time to have your voice heard. Once you've made your call, drop us a comment here, or chime in on #DearJohn on Twitter.

Posted in: Actions, Blog, Criminalization, Healthcare, Reproductive Justice

Reflections on Third Wave Grant Partner Reports

May 30, 2012

Part I As an intern at Third Wave, I have been working on a project that involves reading through all the end of year reports from our 2010 grant partners (reporting on their work throughout 2011). I am taking this opportunity to reflect on some of the innovative approaches of Third Wave grant partners, some of the challenges grant partners face head-on, and what makes Third Wave's relationship to grant partners so unique and especially catalyzing. First, let me give you snapshots of four groups that really jumped out at me (not because they are any more special than the other groups, but because their work resonated with me, personally): St. James Infirmary is an organization providing services to sex workers in the San Francisco area. I was impressed with their commitment to providing high quality primary care, reproductive healthcare, gender transitioning, HIV/STI/TB/Hepatitis testing, STI treatments and vaccines, counseling, syringe access & disposal services, support groups & trainings, and especially with their effort to attack the stigma surrounding sex work. They launched a bold media campaign, “Someone You Know is a Sex Worker,” which ran on the sides of public buses. It showed San Francisco that sex workers are everyday people whose rights are human rights, and that sex workers do real work and deserve labor rights. Brown Boi Project’s approach toward Gender Justice from a “masculine-of-center” position seems, to me, truly revolutionary: “We work for Gender Justice by re-envisioning the power imbalance between traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. We hold institutional systems, other masculine people, and ourselves accountable for its accompanying privileges. We draw on a gender inclusive framework that shapes non-oppressive masculinity rooted in honor, community, and empowerment of feminine identified people, especially women and girls.”(2010 report) In addition to shifting the conversation, they created a health guide, “Freeing Ourselves,” which has been presented in numerous venues and distributed across the country, as well as in Israel, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Canada, and the Ivory Coast. In an effort to cultivate this movement and draw upon the experiences of masculine-of-center young people, BBP provided leadership training to 46 young Brown Bois from all across the country in 2011. Justice Now is a human rights organization striving for a world without prisons, and working to end gendered violence within the prison system. In particular, they are doing amazing work in collecting stories and testimonies to bring to light forced sterilization within prisons, and are linking this to historical patterns of eugenics in this country. I found the two interviews and other short pieces produced by Justice Now and uploaded to Vimeo to be very powerful.  But I am equally impressed with the radically grassroots nature of their organization: their volunteers are all people in prison documenting abuse and organizing from within, and the majority of their board of directors is currently imprisoned or recently released. Young Women’s Empowerment Project is run by and for girls (including trans girls!) who are involved in the street economy. They recently carried out a participatory action research project called "Girls Do What We Have to Do to Survive," which found that girls and queer youth involved in the sex trade are systematically denied help from those institutions meant to serve and protect them (police, health services, social services, etc.). The research also found that this institutional violence towards street youth compounds their experiences of individual violence, wounding them even more. One of the outcomes of this research was the creation of a “Street Youth Bill of Rights," which YWEP is pushing to have adopted by as many service providers as possible. Since, as YWEP also discovered, "resilience is the stepping stone to resistance"(2010 report), they are doing their best to take care of themselves. YWEP declares: "For young people in the sex trade in Chicago, this campaign is not solely about access to services but is about gaining the power and skills to be able to name and change the circumstances that define our lives. Social justice for girls and young women in the sex trade means having the power to make all of the decisions about our own bodies and lives all the time."(2010 report) These four groups, as well as the rest of Third Wave's grant partners, are at the front lines of gender justice work.  They are attacking structures of oppression and violence at their very base, fighting to bring about a systematic change.  Next week I will explore some of the challenges Third Wave's grant partners face in the course of this fight.

Posted in: Blog, Brown Boi Project, Criminalization, Grant Partners, Movement Building, Participatory Research, Philanthropy, Reproductive Justice, St. James Infirmary, YWEP

Reflections on Third Wave Grant Partner Reports, Part II

June 12, 2012

I am currently an intern at Third Wave Foundation, and this is a continuation of my reflections after reading through 2010 end of year grant reports. All of the groups funded by Third Wave are doing groundbreaking and inspirational things. But I was also struck by the kinds of challenges Third Wave's grant partners are facing. To me, these challenges are significant because they represent the fact that grant partners are doing truly revolutionary, as opposed to popular, work. This lack of "popularity" also underscores the necessity of Third Wave's support, since funding for many of these issues and approaches is hard to come by. One challenge is public perception of issues related to sex and gender, as well as the way these issues are (or are not) represented in the media.  St. James Infirmary tried to get their media campaign posted on billboards and was turned down by CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel because the use of the words “sex work” and “sex worker” was deemed “not family friendly.” Different Avenues also reports that they have to stay away from mentioning “sex work” when interacting with many funders.  This also seems to be an issue with many of our groups fighting to bring comprehensive sexual education into schools.  Conservative school boards have put up many barriers, leaving our grant partners frustrated. Another challenge is navigating the changing fads in philanthropy. Because some issues are hot topics, it is easier for them to get funding. Meanwhile, other equally important issues get overlooked. For instance, many funders are more interested in boys in the system than in girls in the system.  This means they don't want to invest in groups like Different Avenues.  Young Women’s Empowerment Project reports being approached by those who have caught onto the anti-trafficking fad and want to speak with “trafficked victims.” They have difficulty expressing how the trafficking framework does not feel relevant for most of the girls who are a part of YWEP. Rather, “Girls Do What They Have to Do to Survive,” according to the title of their report on the participatory action research they did with street youth in Chicago. Within the context of prison reform, Justice Now reports on the realignment movement in California and the push for “gender responsive prison reforms.” At first glance, these proposed changes may appear to be improvements.  They are certainly getting plenty of support.  But Justice Now explains how they are, in fact, a regression. They are fighting for substantial changes to make the prison system more humane and for a movement towards decarceration. Third Wave grant partners tend to look at issues of reproductive health and justice as they affect and are relevant to under-served communities. It can be a challenge for them to appeal to funders working within a mainstream reproductive rights framework (which can seem focused on providing white women with access to abortions). This framework tends to ignore the ways in which gender, class, and racial privileges intersect. Choice USA, the Chicago Abortion Fund, SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, and New Voices Pittsburgh, are all fighting for a woman’s right to choose and for access to safe, empowering, and affordable reproductive healthcare.  New Voices Pittsburgh organized Pennsylvanians to rally against Senate Bill 732, the Health Care Facilities Act, which would close almost all free-standing or non-hospital affiliated clinics in Pennsylvania.  Despite their success as an organization, they report "resistance to our leadership as young women of color"(NVP 2010 report).  These groups recognize that the reproductive rights of people of color are especially under attack. For example, over the past few year, anti-choice billboards around the country have been equating a black woman’s decision not to have a child with the genocide of black people.  Recently, there have been similar billboards aimed at Latina women.  SPARK, Chicago Abortion Fund, and local chapters of Choice USA (at University of Georgia and University of Missouri) have all mobilized against this assault on women of color. Meanwhile, groups such as COLOR and Kalpulli Izkalli report that many of their constituents are very religious, and have views about abortions that differ from the views of many others fighting for reproductive health and justice. They face the challenge of understanding this fight in different ideological contexts.  COLOR reports: “The conservative religious sentiment in the community drives people to ask how we manage to navigate the relationship between strong cultural religion and reproductive freedoms”(COLOR 2010 report). Kalpulli Izkalli has found it necessary to separate the polarizing issue of “abortion” from the broader issues of reproductive justice, such as reproductive healthcare access.  Working from another angle, Young Women United is supporting young parents, recognizing their accomplishments and expertise, and fighting the stigmatization of teen parenting. All of these groups are negotiating what may seem from the outside to be ideological incompatibilities, and challenging the idea that reproductive justice means only “abortion.” They are working to forward reproductive health and justice in a way that makes sense within their communities, leaving constituents informed and empowered to make the decisions that feel right for them. To me, the very fact that our grant partners are running up against these kinds of obstacles to their work is a sign that they are doing something right.  It also reinforces my appreciation of Third Wave as a grantmaker.  Third Wave seeks out those doing crucial work, even if it is "unpopular," and especially when other sources of funding are hard to access.  

Posted in: Blog, Chicago Abortion Fund, COLOR, Comprehensive Sex Ed, Different Avenues, Grant Partners, Media, New Voices Pittsburgh, Organizing & Advocacy, Reproductive Justice, SPARK, St. James Infirmary, Young Women United, Youth Organizing, YWEP

Reproductive Justice & “Political Southernization”: Paris Hatcher from SPARK on GRITtv

March 28, 2011

Earlier this month, Paris Hatcher of SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW appeared on GRITtv with Laura Flanders, where she discussed the recent surge of attacks on reproductive justice and responses led by young women of color activists.

Posted in: Media, Reproductive Justice, SPARK

Reproductive Justice Network Convenes In Albuquerque

September 28, 2011

From the Media Literacy Project Pressroom: Policies and decisions about reproductive health have profound effects on communities — impacting the civil rights and physical health of women in America. National organizations concerned with these issues will convene in Albuquerque Sept. 26-30 to discuss the future of reproductive health and justice issues as part of the Reproductive Justice Network Annual Meeting. The conference is hosted by three New Mexico organizations: Media Literacy Project, Young Women United and Kalpulli Izkalli. The Reproductive Justice Network is an initiative spearheaded by the Third Wave Foundation, and is designed to support the work done by and for young women of color, trans- and gender-nonconforming youth under 30. “Communities have been left out of mainstream reproductive rights conversations,” says Mia Herndon, Third Wave Foundation executive director. “What Third Wave decided to do, is to really center the voices of those communities that had a great deal of reproductive health disparities, but who had yet to be in the leadership of the solutions to shift those disparities.” The reproductive justice movement believes that justice will only be achieved when everyone has the power and resources to make healthy, informed, non-coerced decisions about their bodies, sexuality and families. The reproductive justice framework also recognizes that all individuals are part of families and communities, and gears decision-making toward strategies that support the inclusion of women. “The welfare of our mothers, sisters and daughters has become less and less of a priority in New Mexico,” says Media Literacy Project Executive Director Andrea Quijada. “If families are the cornerstone of community and women are the cornerstone of the family, we will not see a healthy New Mexico until we prioritize the status of women here.” And reproductive justice issues, Young Women United Executive Director Adriann Barboa notes, extend beyond traditional questions of family planning. “Women are the highest uninsured population in our state,” Barboa says. “Reproductive justice looks at all aspects of a woman’s health, from access to quality and safe care, to her economic means to care for her family. It’s time that those most impacted by these issues are at the center of creating the solutions.” The Reproductive Justice Network Annual Meeting and Third Wave Convening will be held at Hotel Albuquerque Monday, Sept. 26 through Friday, Sept. 30. For further information or to arrange press credentials for the conference, contact Hakim Bellamy at 505.828.3388 or hakim@medialiteracyproject.org.

Posted in: Blog, Community, Reproductive Justice, Young Women United

Smith Bill Update: Rape Redefinition Removed

February 3, 2011

Chalk one up to the many activists, organizations and political commentators who took on Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for their attempt to redefine rape as part of a new bill Smith introduced, the "No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act" [PDF]. As originally drafted, the bill proposed to narrow the Medicaid funding exception that currently provides coverage for abortions in the case of rape to only cover a new category of "forcible" rape. Now, after five days of whirlwind outrage, such as the #DearJohn Twitter campaign and Jon Stewart's segment on "Rape Rape" vs. "Rapish" (below), the clause was finally removed this morning.

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Let's not breathe a sigh of relief yet. There is so much yet left to challenge in the Smith Bill that would damage our ability to determine what happens to our bodies. The "forcible rape" clause was only one in a series of attacks on our reproductive and health options, especially for young people, low income people, and people of color. The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) released a statement that calls the bill on its racist ramifications.
This bill would strip a woman of her right to decide which options best suit her health care needs and would add cruel restrictions for victims of sexual violence. Access to abortion is critically important for women of color and immigrant women who are disproportionally poor. Presently, 25% of poor women who want to choose abortion can’t because the federal government refuses to pay for it.
Among a slew of other attacks on women's access to healthcare, the bill would destroy private insurance coverage of abortion with broad reaching impact. Mother Jones explains that although the proposal "has a stated aim of making the Hyde Amendment (a rule that has to be renewed every year that prohibits federal funding of abortions through Medicaid) into permanent, government-wide law" it could be "a Trojan horse for the elimination of private insurance coverage for abortion." Specifically,
Smith's bill would create a huge incentive for employers to only offer health insurance that doesn't cover abortion. Insurers would respond to what their customers wanted, and the percentage of health plans offering abortion coverage—currently 86 percent—would undoubtedly plummet. …The employer tax exemption for health insurance is the government's largest tax expenditure. It affects nearly every American who gets health insurance through their employers. If the abortion rights advocates are right, the tax section of Smith's bill would affect far more people (and more money) than any other portion of the law.
We need to see this win — the removal of the "forcible rape" clause — as only the first step of many in knocking apart the Smith bill. My greatest fear is that we allow ourselves to celebrate or to be distracted: this is not a compromise. As a community of activists who care about protecting the health and well-being of the people who are most vulnerable to the harsh impacts of abusive legislation, we need to see the larger picture. Every part of this bill is a systematic attack on our access to safe, high quality and affordable healthcare, and we need to sustain our efforts to change it.

Posted in: Blog, Healthcare, NLIRH, Reproductive Justice