Why We Must Set A New Agenda For Reproductive Justice In America
We know that Black women suffer from multiple oppressions — often targeted because of our race, sex and class, among other things. And we know all too well the toll that oppression can take.
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Right now, 47 states are trying to restrict Black voting rights. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Black women make 63 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Black communities have been disparately impacted by the pandemic, with Black women shouldering the brunt of the burden.
No surprises here. We know that Black women suffer from multiple oppressions — often targeted because of our race, sex and class, among other things. And we know all too well the toll that oppression can take. While none of this is news, there is a new response and, more importantly, a new plan to fight back.
On June 15, 2021, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, Interfaith Voices for Reproductive Justice, and SisterLove, Inc. announced the release of the first-of-its-kind Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda, an innovative, proactive policy plan created in collaboration with more than 30 Black women’s organizations and advocates to address issues at the intersections of race, gender, class, sexual orientation and gender identity using a Reproductive Justice lens.
Grounded in a human rights framework and Black feminist theory, the Black RJ Policy Agenda prioritizes the comprehensive needs of Black communities — based on the lived experiences of Black women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive individuals. The authors crafted the policies with the understanding that — to achieve these human rights — it is imperative that all women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive individuals have complete economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions in all areas of their lives — including their bodies, families and communities.
The Agenda covers a wide range of issues, including Black maternal health, economic and environmental justice issues, guaranteed minimum basic income, abortion access, mental health care and voting rights. It includes existing legislation in Congress, such as the Momnibus, HEAL, Fair Wage, Equal Pay and REACH Acts. But it doesn’t stop there.
The Agenda is visionary and dares to demand policies and programs that tackle systemic racism. For instance, when the authors looked at the issue of childcare, we saw it through the prism of the Black community. That means that we are calling for policies that at once make safe, quality childcare more affordable and available for parents, while also ensuring that those childcare jobs pay sustainable, living wages.
Our Agenda also demands immediate and substantial improvements to reproductive health care. That means that our government must treat the Black maternal health crisis like the epidemic it is and ensure that solutions address the racial and social inequities in a sustained manner. Our agenda also calls for improving access to birth control and abortion — especially for women and people living in poverty. It’s time to end the Hyde Amendment restrictions that prohibit federal funding for abortion.
The Agenda is also green — because Black neighborhoods and communities are more likely to suffer environmental degradation, from lack of access to safe water, clean air or exposure to toxic chemicals. We also know climate change and rising temperatures have been linked to poor maternal and infant health outcomes — further endangering Black families.
The issues and problems faced by Black women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive people are interwoven with issues of race, gender and class and called for a Black policy agenda that was comprehensive and intersectional. An unprecedented coalition of Black Reproductive Justice organizations and advocates came together to develop just that. We’ve written the Agenda, now we invite others to join us to make it a reality.
Marcela Howell is the president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda and one of the authors of the National Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda.