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Pro-choice Movement Must Expand Its Demands

Pro-choice Movement Must Expand Its Demands image
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Access to abortions should be a fundamental right for all women in this society. It is as important as access to contraceptives for sexually active women and pre and post natal care for pregnant women who wish to carry their pregnancies to term. Such a right is particularly important for poor women, who are disproportionately women of color. This is not because we cannot afford to have children, because we mustdemand that society provide us with the means of financially supporting our children, with education, jobs, and public services, when and if we opt to have them. Rather, the issue of reproductive choice is important in this society because we have been denied choices at virtually every turn. Poor women of color have never had control over our own bodies . Under slavery, rape and forced marriages took from us our basic physical autonomy as women. Forced sterilization of rural southern Black women and thousands of Puerto Rican women is y et another example of the degree of control that has been exercised over our bodies, and by extensión our lives, by groups of predominantly white men. Estímales are that nearly half of all Puerto Rican women of childbearing agehavebeen sterilized, many of them without being told the irreversible consequences of such procedures. Given the historie denial of choice for poor women and women of color, the demand for reproductive choices is as essential and fundamental as all the other struggles for personal and political freedom we have waged over the years. It is integral to our overall quest for self determination. Recent attacks on abortion rights have hit poor women and women of color the hardest. They represent not only manifes tations of sexism, butof racism and class discrimination as well. By limiting abortion, the Supreme Court has put the reproductive rights of all women in jeopardy in the long run. However, it has curtailed the rights of poor women and women of color in a much more severe and im medíate sense. As States move to res trie t and complícate the circumstances under which simple abortions can be performed, the actual cost of the procedure will undoubtedly increase forcing small, minimally staf fed clinics to close their doors. This will de facto make safe, legal abortions less available, if not unavailable to millions of poor and working class women throughout the country. This process is already under way in Michigan . The struggle for abortion rights is an important struggle for all women, regardless of race or class. However, the slogan "a woman's right to choose" has very different implications for poor women of color, in the context of a society which not only derdes us reproductive freedom, but also denies us choice in most other facets of life. The predominantly white feminist movement must recognize and respect this difference and develop slogans, demands and campaigns that are consistent with an expended definition of "pro-choice." The reality is that class and racial oppression compound and influence how gender and sexual oppression impact upon us all. We, as women of color, are, in a wide range of contexts, and often simultaneously, denied choices as workers, as members of oppressed racial minorities, and as women in a sexist society. For example, as workers we have very little autonomy in our workplaces-ever the servants and subordinates of others. We are most often unemployed or underemployed and therefore trapped and immobilized by the prison cell of poverty . As welfare recipiente we are required to open up the most intímate details of our lives to the scrutiny of strangers. If we are poor we have little choice about where we live, work, shop, or seek health care. And as oppressed people of color, we cannot move into many coiiirrainities without the threat of harassment by white neighbors or even walk down the street in many areas without the fear of random vigilante violence. Our choices, on the whole, are very circumscribed. In order, therefore, to address the needs of those women who have the least degree of choice in our society, the pro-choice movement must link the demand for reproductive freedom with the demand for economie justice and racial equality. Because, inescapably, reproductive freedom for poor women and women of color will always be undermined by the relative lack of freedom in other areas of our lives. Moreover, campaigns for jobs, education, affordable housing, daycare and healthcare are directly related to our ability to make real choices about reproduction and parenting. There are those who make the narrow and erroneous argument that abortion rights for poor women of color is another form of genocide. However, abortion rights, when framed in the larger context of the struggle for social and economie justice, is unarguably a progressive demand. For women of color to gain a greater amount of control, personal power and choice in our lives is always positive. Abortion, like contraception, does not prevent women f rom having children, it simply allows us to do so at a time and under circumstances best for us and our families. In addition, if one argües against abortion on the grounds that it undermines "the family," we are arrogantly subscribing to a monolithic model of family. Such a rigid ideal suggests that sexuality is solely for procreation, which reduces women to baby factories, and negates the sexual realities of many gay male and lesbian couples who do not have children. But the demand for abortion rights without the demand for economie and social justice still leaves women of color and poor women in a bind. Our sexual and reproductive choices should not be made for us, either by the Supreme Court or by economie neces sities outside of our control, be they the inability to afford d simple medical procedure to terminale an unwanted pregnancy, or the inability to fmancially bear the cost of raising a child. To the degree that abortion is a "choice" made out of economie necessity, itisno choice at all and represenls yet another aspect of class oppression feit by poor and working class women. At the same time, if and when a poor woman is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, because of her inability to afford an abortion, we see the same form of discrimination in reverse. These complex and interrelated dynamics of race, class and gender have confronted women of color throughout history in dif fering forms. Unfortunately, however, most liberal white feminists and moderate Black civil righis leaders have both failed to fully address the complexity of issues and multiple sy sterns of oppression that impinge upon the lives of poor women of color. For example, Ben Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, when asked if the organization would take a stand on the abortion issue commented, "We do not want to get in the middle of that." However, millions of Black women are inescapably in the middle of the issue and any organization that professes to be concerned with out interest, must concern itself with the issue as well. Similarly, it is quite disturbing to hear sotne white pro -choice advocates defend the abortion issue from the point of view of economie efficiency, sugges ting that it is cheaper to fund an abortion than to support an unwanted child on welfare. This borders on the very dangerous argument that poor women simply do not have the right to have children. We must demand more of those who deern themselves spokespersons for the best interests of women and people of color. To combat oppression, any progressive movement must give priority, not to those of us who are suf fering the least in this society, but those who are suffering the most. Poor womertof color are clearly that group in the United States today. In addition to the denial of abortion and other forms of medical treatment to poor women, homelessness, poverty, underemployment and unemployment are also on the rise and circumscribe our reproductive choices. The movements against racism and sexism must get bcyond a mutually exclusive and competitive definition of these forms of exploitation and understand their intimate connections. Since poor women and women of color are under assault from virtually every quarter, we must step up our efforts to mobilize, form alliances and give leadership around the issues that are threatening our lives and the lives of our loved ones.


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