Each year, as the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade rolls around, I respond with a sigh. Each year comes the reminder that one complicated court case, hung on the premise of privacy, has wholly framed this movement I call home. The reminder that the conversation about Roe is usually uncomfortably celebratory. The reminder that the anti-choice movement almost always host rallies that outnumber ours by thousands on that day. The reminder that the media conversation tends to be dominated by white women who praise Roe, or questions of where the young people, like me, are in the “pro-choice” movement. The reminder that the promise of Roe has yet to be achieved for many, and that hundreds of dedicated activists, my peers, use their spare time to raise money for those for whom Roe is a hypothetical promise when the bank account sum doesn’t add up and the state programs say no. Each year, the celebration feels even less celebratory, as the laws and restrictions pile onto themselves. The legal concept of doctor/patient privacy may protect the procedure, but it doesn’t protect against forced misinformation, ultrasounds, waiting periods, public shame and financial barriers.
Each year the anniversary of Roe brings the reminder that people of color are disproportionately affected by the current state of access to safe abortion care, but often missing from the public dialogue about Roe and abortion. This year I worked with the reproductive justice organization Forward Together on a series of articles from people of color, as well as queer and trans folks, reflecting on this 40th anniversary.
There are many reasons why we’re in the place we’re in with such a fraught environment for abortion rights—but the fact that the abortion conversation has been historically dominated by and centered around the voices of upper middle class white women is one piece of the puzzle that landed us here. It takes a lot of work to fight against racism, which plays out in the way the media will almost always hand the microphone to those with the most privilege and access first. So in addition to my own work as a writer, I often work with groups that try to lift up voices from new places, encourage writing and offer editing. I’ve noticed that when working with women and people of color, there is often so much hesitation in putting our stories and our opinions out there. Often the question of Why me? Why my voice? Why should I be the one to represent these issues, or my community? These are questions that I’d bet very few of the mostly male and white voices that dominate our media have ever asked themselves.
The reason why these voices matter is that if we centered our organizing for reproductive rights and justice on the experiences of those who are most marginalized, our goals would go much farther than just ensuring legal access to the procedure. They would go much farther, and likely address things like financial access, stigma, transportation, immigration status and all the other aspects of life that affect access beyond legality.
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Changing the conversation about abortion will require a lot more than just changing the media. But the media is one place to work, and it’s where I’ve placed most of my energy. In that realm, things are starting to change. The Forward Together series as a whole paints a really different picture of the experiences with abortion and parenting, and together these stories begin to weave together the bigger picture of what access really means in the US today.
Samara Azam-Yu reflected on five things she’s learned from her work with people choosing abortion. Taja Lindley reflected on what the anniversary means in the context of her work as a doula supporting people across the spectrum of pregnancy, including abortion at Feministe. At Feministing, Ash Moore bravely shares her story of rape as a young person, and the decisions we all must make regarding pregnancy. At Autostraddle, Kristen Zimmerman illustrates how complex and personal these decisions are, reflecting on her own mother’s choice not to get an abortion, and her and her partner’s decision to continue a pregnancy knowing their child would have Down’s syndrome. Cynthia Greenlee-Donnelly at the Strong Families blog lays out the political history that brought us to the historic Roe decision, focusing on African-American women. Mariotta Gary-Smith reflects on sharing a birthday with Roe and her experiences with abortion growing up in the Deep South. Mai Doan on the experiences of the young people she works with on dealing with shame. Alicia Walters breaks down the experience of African-American motherhood today: “…many women have endured gross violations of their privacy, religious liberty, and suffered from infection, wrongful conviction, and even death.” Shanelle Matthews shares her story of abortion for the first time since it happened at a decade ago, and reflects on what it means to be a queer Black woman at Crunk Feminist Collective.
These are the narratives of our reality. This is what Roe looks like today–and how far we have to go before we’ll have achieved true reprodutive justice.