Editor’s Note: This article is part of a pre-election series
featuring leading voices in sexual and reproductive health advocacy,
showing how shared American values underpin their support for sexual
and reproductive health, rights, and justice. Read them all here.
word "justice" appears only three times in the United States Constitution. The
first time justice is mentioned, it is named in the preamble as one of the
reasons the Constitution even exists: "to establish Justice." The Constitution
guarantees a litany of rights that establish legal and social equity, and then extends
those rights to those of us that were left out in the first round. Is this what
makes justice an American value?
seed for justice to be a guiding American value was planted in the Constitution,
but as Americans we have valued justice far more in our actions that any
printed word can for us. We have defied authority and risked our lives in the
name of justice. We have dared disrupt the economic foundation and stability of
the country to abolish slavery, we have rejected abuses of power and demanded
protection for workers from labor exploitation, and we have disintegrated
arguments of inferiority falsely grounded in nature and biology to obtain the
right to vote as women and people of color. No law, including the Constitution,
did any of this for us before we did it ourselves. Justice may be found in the
documents that govern us, but it is Americans working as civic participants and
activists that put it there. Americans value and demand justice even when the
Supreme Court doesn’t.
I don’t work for reproductive justice because justice always prevails, because
no matter how hard we struggle, it certainly doesn’t (especially the first or second or third time around). As an
American, I know that we embrace justice because it demands that we build a
society that dismantles and rejects oppression. Justice is not a value that
explains how to accept the way things are, but that guides us in putting them
as they should be.
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member of an abortion fund and as an activist in the "Hyde – 30 Years is Enough!"
Campaign, I demand that the federal government quit denying women essential
medical care simply because they are poor. Medicaid is Americans’ commitment to
the poor and underserved, and the right to an abortion is one protected by the
Constitution. By denying women abortion services under Medicaid, the Hyde
Amendment undermines both of these pledges, and does so in ways that directly
discriminate against women – above all young women, poor women and women of
color. This blatant discrimination is antithetical to American values of
justice and equity. We do not allow the government to deny us the right to vote
because we are poor, nor are we denied the rights to freedom of religion or of
assembly because we cannot afford them. So why is the right to an abortion, one
explicitly protected by the Constitution, any different? The answer is because
the need for abortion care under Medicaid affects only poor women, whose
political voice is more likely to be marginalized and more likely to be ignored
by politicians. Therein lies a deep injustice, and it is that laws and
regulations meant to preserve the rights and health of Americans have left out
certain women because a powerful few have alternative definitions of "rights" and "health" for those women.
are still working to repeal the Hyde Amendment, but we have two centuries of
American movements for social justice behind us, letting us know,
unequivocally, that we are right. Laws don’t repeal themselves. Our profound
value of justice as Americans has led us to demand equal protection and equal
rights time and time again, and we will continue to do so now.