The 2012 Attack on Reproductive Rights Will Trade on Women of Color

2011 has featured a string of hard-fought, local battles to protect poor women's access to reproductive health care. That won't change next year, and poor women of color will again be in the crossfire.

By Akiba Solomon Dec 20, 2011

I’m not a psychic, cable news pundit or even a Sunday morning talk show guest. But based on how key race and gender matters played out in 2011, and the looming presidential election, I think 2012 is going to be a year of battles royale for basic reproductive health rights that many of us take for granted.

And trust, women of color are a major piece of the anti-choice agenda. Look no further than the scores of  insulting, race-baiting danger womb billboards targeting black and Latina women that went up in cities including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Those boards–which send black and brown women to religiously based crisis pregnancy centers that don’t offer full reproductive healthcare services or even basic prenatal care–made it clear that women are just collateral damage in this war.

Like rape and domestic violence, reproductive healthcare doesn’t seem to strike the same chord with us as say, a stupid Gene Marks column or Satoshi Kanazawa calling us ugly, but these issues have to be on our immediate radar. I’m not saying we’re asleep–as Erykah Badu says (and I too often cite and paraphrase), we stay woke. The question is how we can effectively clap back when so many of us are living hand to mouth; fearing ICE-enhanced racial profiling or the regular old version of race-based criminalization; battling home foreclosure; navigating higher ed debt; and regrouping after political debacles. (Plan B blocking, anyone?)

In her brilliant 2012 forecast, Rinku Sen has some inspiring, do-able strategies. After you’ve soaked up her game, throw the following reproductive healthcare issues into your pot of winnable battles. Then please, please, please add your own in the comments.

Poor women’s healthcare can’t be collateral damage in the right’s fight to gut Planned Parenthood.

In spring 2011, we saw Indiana anti-choice legislators sacrifice millions of federal dollars in family planning grants for the express purpose of depriving 28 Planned Parenthood clinics of state Medicaid dollars. Black women, who made up 40 percent of area Planned Parenthood Medicaid patients, lost immediate access to vital preventative healthcare such as Pap smears and clinical breast exams. 

Taking a page out of the Indiana playbook, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has his own eff-poor-women legislation. On Jan. 1, 2012, his state’s Department of Health Services will cut Planned Parenthood out of its Well Woman Program, which serves 45- to 64-year-old women without health insurance. Planned Parenthood is the sole coordinator for Well Woman cervical and breast cancer screenings in four Wisconsin counties. Walker, who is best known for gutting collective bargaining for municipal workers at the behest of the Koch brothers, cited "controversy" as the impetus:

"There are many clinics that are not as controversial as Planned Parenthood, and our goal was to make sure low-income women had access to those sorts of screenings from other providers around the state that don’t carry the controversy you get with Planned Parenthood," he told Action News 2 in Wisconsin.

If you follow the path of state Planned Parenthood defunding, there’s bound to be some women of color and/or poor women at the center. In 2012, we have to sound that alarm.

Personhood mania will continue, as will resistance to it.

The passage of Mississippi’s pro-zygote Amendment 26 looked imminent–until voters defeated it in late November. Some copycat bills, like Virginia’s, feature more rhetoric comparing fertilized eggs to members of historically oppressed ethnic and racial groups. That’s in addition to the vague and often misleading language that fails to spell out how these laws might criminalize victims of rape or incest, those who have dangerous pregnancies and others. 

This week, in response to an ACLU-backed legal challenge, a Nevada judge actually ordered the Nevada Prolife Coalition to rewrite their vague personhood ballot initiative to clarify its possible effects. Now, the initiative’s required 200-word description spells out that "the initiative would protect a prenatal person regardless of whether or not the prenatal person would live, grow, or develop in the womb or survive birth; prevent all abortions even in the case of rape, incest, or serious threats to the woman’s health or life, or when a woman is suffering from a miscarriage, or as an emergency treatment for an ectopic pregnancy." It also cites impact on "certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization" and "some rights Nevada women currently have to utilize some forms of birth control, including the "pill." 

In 2012, create a Google alert for "personhood," "personhood ballots" and other related terms. Watch as Personhood USA, the national sponsor of most of this activity, acts as if there are lots of local mandates for their recycled legislation. It’ll be like Personhood 2011 "Groundhog Day" but without the hilarious Bill Murray.

President Obama’s big health reform bill will deal explicitly with race in 2012.

In the coming year, several less-talked-about provisions of Obama’s Affordable Care Act will kick in. This includes new funding for free house calls to pregnant women and newborns, "because infant mortality and post-birth complications are higher in minority and low-income groups"; more language services and diversity and cultural competency training for medical professionals; more funding for community health centers, which serve one in four low-income people of color; and richer collection of data about physically disabled, LGBT, Asian and Native American people who have been generalized or ignored.

Our job is to make sure these policies see the light of day, given the anti-health reform lobby. And given the heated role health reform will play in the 2012 elections. Already, the administration has rolled back parts of the law that seek to ensure a nationwide standard of care, in order to fend off Republican attacks. 

Again, tell me what I’m missing in the comments. Happy New Year!