Women of Color Need Human Rights, Not Concessions

Loretta Ross

If we are really entering a new phase of abortion politics, we have to stop selling out poor people to appease opponents of women’s human rights.

I don’t agree that President-elect Obama should only seek “common
ground” on abortion and avoid standing up for the rights of poor women
in our society.

As an organization that represents both pro-life and pro-choice women
of color, SisterSong believes that poor women should have the same
rights and access as middle class women in making decisions about our
bodies. But the Hyde Amendment and other federal rules prohibit federal
funding for abortion services for poor women on Medicaid, for Native
American women in the Indian Health Services, for women in the military
and in the Peace Corps. As a first step, the Hyde Amendment should be
repealed — immediately!

The government should not be in the business of telling us what to do
with our reproductive choices. These are our private decisions. The
situation is comparable to choosing to fly in an airplane. The
government should not tell us which airline to use, which destination
to choose or if we should fly at all. But the government does have an
obligation to ensure that the airlines are safe, that the airfares are
affordable and that the airports are accessible. The questions of
safety, affordability and accessibility are necessary to enable our
private decisions to be meaningful.

The same is true when it comes to abortion. Poor women demand the right
to safe, affordable and accessible conditions in which to implement our
private decisions on whether or not to have children. A manufactured
“consensus,” claiming that the new administration should not fight for
the reproductive rights of poor women, is simply wrong.

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For more than 30 years, we’ve fought as women of color for the rights
of poor women. We will not stand silently or meekly while others advise
the administration that our needs don’t matter, or that they don’t suit
bipartisan politics. Fighting for the needs of poor women is truly
bipartisan, and there are Republicans who agree with us, just as there
are pro-lifers working within our reproductive justice organizations.

If we are really entering a new phase of politics, we have to stop
selling out poor people to appease opponents of women’s human rights.
There is nothing original in that strategy.

Our real allies know that abortion rights are a fundamental part of
women’s healthcare and that women have the right to have children, to
not have children, and to parent the children we have. Political
expedience has sacrificed us for too long. “Conventional wisdom” is
neither conventional or wise if it says we should only reach for
“common ground” and forget that women who need birth control, sex
education and other reproductive health services also need abortion
rights.

As women of color, we helped elect Barack Obama – much more strongly
than the 55 percent of white America who voted against him. He should
not start his administration by betraying us to appease those who do
not share his vision of human rights for all, especially protecting the
rights of poor women of color.

This article was first published by On the Issues.

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