Commentary Human Rights

Protecting Reproductive Autonomy in the Age of Trump: A Call to Fellow White Feminists

Megan J. Smith & Shaya French

White feminists need to recognize that we can’t win by leaving our sisters and siblings behind. We must support reproductive justice organizations led by women of color.

It feels like our worst fears are coming true. We saw blatant misogyny affect the electoral process, and we came so close to having our first woman president and then watched that possibility slip away. Although his position on reproductive rights has shifted over the years, in a recent 60 Minutes interview, President-elect Donald Trump reiterated his “pro-life” stance and the influence that will have on his administration picks. Seeing as the Republicans have control of the House and Senate, and with a U.S. Supreme Court nomination looming overhead, losing access to abortion care is a stark possibility.

While abortion access may be threatened everywhere, we know that red, southern states face the most immediate attacks. Even if Roe v. Wade is repealed, progressive local and state governments in blue states will likely take steps to protect abortion rights and access in areas under their jurisdiction. We cannot rely on that safety valve in other areas. To build a cohesive and powerful movement, we must consider how to funnel resources to those in red states who most need it.

Over the past two weeks, it has been heartening to see so many people ready to donate, march, and volunteer to resist Trump and secure our reproductive autonomy. This fight will take all of us. This article is a guide to understanding some of the successes and mistakes white feminists, including ourselves, have made in the past. We conclude with a list of suggestions about how we can strategically send our money and energy where it will have the most effect.

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The Abortion Fight Has Changed From Legality to Access Since Roe v. Wade

We are scared about losing control over reproductive autonomy. But many of us know what it is to live without abortion access. For some, living in a pre-Roe era meant risking our lives and safety to be able to obtain an illegal abortion. For others, the passing of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which prohibited Medicaid from covering abortions, meant losing our financial access to a basic health-care service.

After Roe v. Wade, the religious right made an important tactical shift, chipping away at our reproductive freedom state by state because they couldn’t make it illegal nationally. From 2011 to 2016, states enacted 334 abortion restrictions, making abortion extremely difficult to access, particularly for women living in red states with limited financial resources. Today, with the onslaught of recent state-level attacks, people are making difficult choices about whether they’ll borrow money, travel hundreds of miles, or even self-induce an abortion if they cannot obtain one legally.

Women of color and low-income women have been the most affected by abortion restrictions. When abortion is restricted, people living in poverty, who already don’t have access to adequate reproductive health care, suffer most. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a 2014 interview, “The irony and tragedy is any woman of means can have a safe abortion somewhere in the United States. But women lacking the wherewithal to travel can’t. There is no big constituency out there concerned about access restrictions on poor women.”

The Reproductive Justice Movement Centers Those With the Most at Stake

“Reproductive justice” was coined by women of color in 1994 to center their experiences and to bridge reproductive rights and other social justice movements. As Loretta Ross, a co-creator of the term “reproductive justice” and a co-founder of the Atlanta-based SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, writes, “Reproductive Justice is a positive approach that links sexuality, health, and human rights to social justice movements by placing abortion and reproductive health issues in the larger context of the well-being and health of women, families and communities because reproductive justice seamlessly integrates those individual and group human rights particularly important to marginalized communities.”

Reproductive justice was created because the predominantly white, middle-class women’s rights movement and the male leadership of the civil rights movement did not address the issues specific to women of color’s reproductive autonomy. Women of color were (and still are) facing forced sterilization, coerced contraception, and higher rates of removal of children from families due to accusations of abuse or neglect. In addition, manifestations of systemic racismdiscriminatory and unequal implementation of laws and incarceration rates, prohibitions imposed on people after incarceration, unjust immigration policies, and economic insecurity—have all made parenting more difficult for women of color.

Abortion is not the only reproductive fight. These other issues need to also be addressed before someone can feel like having a child or not having a child is a real choice.

The reproductive justice movement filled important gaps left by the mainstream reproductive rights movement. While white women leaders were focused on pushing legislative reforms, women of color leaders recognized the need to change culture, laying the groundwork necessary for legal reform. Reproductive justice organizations like the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center have developed research and education models that address the needs of their community. And groups like SisterReach in Tennessee and Women With A Vision in New Orleans are connecting the issue of reproductive autonomy to other interventions around poverty, HIV and AIDs, and drug policy reform.

Reproductive justice organizations are not just serving those most in need. Groups like SisterSong also provide the lifeblood of our collective movement for reproductive autonomy by placing value on art and culture, developing strategies to address reproductive rights across sectors, pushing us advocates to shift our frameworks so that we are all working for justice, and doing the work on the ground so that all people get access to what they need. Sadly, several important reproductive justice organizations, including the Chicago-based Black Women for Reproductive Justice, have folded due to economic hardship. While each organization has its own story, a lack of funding is an underlying theme in many of those stories. Now is the time to fund reproductive justice!

A Call to White Feminists

White feminists: Many of us know what it is like to live without abortion access and we know what it is like to have to fight for reproductive autonomy. But many of us do not know what it is like to have to do that while living with the constant danger of racism, fearing for the lives and safety of our children, or living in communities whose reproductive lives are targeted and restricted in many interconnected ways.

White women have historically sought to secure their own reproductive health at the cost of women of color. We’ve seen history repeat itself again and again, from excluding women of color from the suffrage movement, to historically failing to mobilize against the Hyde Amendment, to knowingly electing representatives who will enact reproductive policies that disproportionately affect our co-conspirators of color who have been fighting alongside us.

Fifty-three percent of white women voted Trump into office. Women of color, especially Black women, voted overwhelmingly (94 percent!) for Hillary Clinton, demonstrating, once again, that they have always done their part to ensure the reproductive rights and protection of all of us. Leaders like Monica Simpson have been on the forefront of challenging and expanding the Democratic platform to include reproductive justice.

Many factors contributed to Trump’s election. The one we, as the authors of this piece, white middle-class feminists, feel most responsible for is the failure on the part of Democrats and the left to provide solutions for the changes in our economy. Instead of engaging white, working-class Trump voters about issues on which we might find some common ground, white, middle-class feminists (including the authors of this piece) have largely ignored their voices. Though to be sure, Trump voters extended up and down the economic spectrum, our lack of engagement has contributed to the divisiveness in this country. We, who count ourselves among the 47 percent who voted for Hillary Clinton, have contributed to the political landscape that influenced 53 percent to justify voting for Trump. We pride ourselves on our politics but do not engage with people around us. It is time for us to unite with white, working-class women and have hard conversations about class, race, job loss, and strategize how we can band together.

What can white feminists do to combat the impending legislative attacks to restrict our rights? We need to follow and support the leadership of those who are already doing the work. We are going out in droves to escort at clinics and upping our monthly donations to Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. All of that is wonderful. But we also need to pay attention to where money is concentrated in our movement. In the past, white women have given more money to legislative change organizations and paid little attention to cultural work. We have left women of color to find funding and solve issues beyond abortion that restrict their reproductive autonomy.

We need to recognize that we are in this struggle together, and we can’t win by leaving our sisters and siblings behind. We must support reproductive justice organizations led by women of color. By withholding financial resources and determining priorities based solely on our needs, we are limiting the capacity and power of our movement. We must trust women leaders of color to determine their own reproductive priorities. We have access to more financial resources and must funnel those resources to women of color so that the feminist movement is strong for what lies ahead.

What Can You Do?

Let us make financial contributions in line with our dream of having equal access to reproductive health care for all. We believe that being accountable feminist allies is not limited to monetary support, and also strive to support women of color by answering calls for rallies and volunteer support, educating ourselves and others, and mobilizing other white folks. We also believe economic justice and funding are critical to ensuring that people have the resources they need to do the work. While Trump’s election gives the fight for reproductive freedom more urgency, let us look to people who have been fighting for their reproductive autonomy for a very long time to learn how we can ensure reproductive freedom for all people.

Below are several suggestions of where to begin with donations. We encourage you to also do your own research and support women of color-led organizing in your own communities.

Fund the Reproductive Justice Movement

  1. Donate to national organizations directly supporting leadership of women of color: SisterSongForward Together, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center are good places to start.
  2. Donate to women of color-led, local reproductive justice organizations, like California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Ohio and Pennsylvania’s New Voices, Tennessee’s SisterReach, Georgia’s SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, and New Orleans’ Women With A Vision.
  3. Donate to funds that strategically distribute money to reproductive justice and gender justice movements. The Third Wave Fund is an activist fund led by and for women of color, intersex, queer, and trans folks under 35 years old. Third Wave makes rapid response and emergency grants through its Mobilize Power Fund, and makes long-term grants to emerging organizations through its Grow Power Fund.
  4. Provide funds for people in your community by giving to your local abortion fund.

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