To date, fewer moments in American History have been more wrought with divisive and cataclysmic energy than 40 years ago this month. On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. On that day, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark decision that women should hold the ultimate power to control their own bodies. Well, kinda sorta. Tacked on to the decision was a provision stating that the right must be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting prenatal life and protecting women’s health.
One might have hoped that the 1973 landmark decision would put all debate around abortion to rest. In fact, over the past four decades, women’s reproductive rights have been one of the most widely debated and most divisive topics around. This is due in part to the language of Roe v. Wade, which left plenty of room for debate on the legality of abortion. But perhaps the court’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade has created such a lasting fight precisely because of what it did make clear, that the law was designed for only a narrow slice of women—those with the means to access their right.
Framed as government’s “legitimate interests,” ongoing dramatic disparities in accessible health care, available quality information, and protection of reproductive rights based on race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, and language have devastated communities of color and queer communities and have made abortion a central battleground for a new wave of reproductive justice. For more than 600 years women of color have fought (genocide, slavery, forced migration and denied immigration, and culturally based sterilization) to build and sustain families that are healthy and whole, free from a much more elaborate state control of their bodies. This legacy, and the host of health barriers that flow from it, are still not politically and culturally salient in the world of reproductive rights. But issues like economic, cultural, and immigration barriers to accessing services; ongoing efforts to sterilize poor women of color; reproductive rights for queer and trans people of color; and intense medical discrimination against women of color with disabilities are galvanizing more and more people to action to put the debate to an end and create true freedom of choice.
We believe that the debate around abortion has festered on, in large part, because of the silence of men and masculine of center women of color on this issue. As those whose reproductive rights, though also threatened, are rarely targeted (save the occasional Viagra commercial), our disinvestment is actually fueling a war against the bodies of women, trans and gender nonconforming people, and people with disabilities in our communities. When we don’t talk about our stories of reproductive justice we allow the conversation to remain one-sided, creating an untruth that passes as reality. Though we may benefit outwardly from standing on the sideline and allowing this untruth to pass, when reproductive rights are trampled on and women are attacked or denied access, we are deeply and profoundly impacted as well.
For Brown Boi Isabel Sousa, this realization led to fury: “I have a furious love for my mother. Furious because I ‘met’ my mother for the first time when I was six years old, having been kidnapped by my father and smuggled across a border so that my mother wouldn’t be granted custody after their divorce. Furious because I understand from this experience that to take away children from their mothers against their will, across national borders…and to use children as collateral in extortion is a crime against mankind and should be prosecuted as such. So yes, I do think reproductive justice is a very personal issue for me. It’s a matter of life or death. It’s a matter of justice for my mother who was denied a visa for 12 years in a row, and kept by government agencies from seeing the children that were kidnapped from her. It’s a matter of basic respect for the lives and autonomy of the women that made existence possible for all of us. My love for my mother is furious and I would fight for her rights to reproductive justice with every last fiber of my being, as an equal right that not only women deserve, but that we are all entitled to.”
To expand the reproductive justice lens means increasing access to tools that keep our bodies and our families healthy and secure whether that is access to abortion, immigration reform and protection, disability justice, or transgender-specific resources. Moving beyond the sole focus of a woman’s body and abortion does not deny that Roe v. Wade was a watershed moment in our movement’s history and efforts.
While we are indeed ‘Still Wading’ 40 years post-Roe v. Wade, we are now wading with the anticipation and expectancy that those sitting at the table of change will reflect the entire spectrum of persons receiving care, not just those holding the most power and privilege. Until then, The Brown Boi Project will not remain silent. We are committed to pushing a conversation that addresses the needs across our community, allowing us to build Strong Families in queer, trans, and straight communities of color.
By Zerandrian Morris for The Brown Boi Project.
The Brown Boi Project works across race, gender, and sexuality to build a national conversation on gender justice. Working with queer, trans, and straight people of color along a masculine spectrum.