Reproductive Justice Advocates Speak: ‘We Must Fight for a Future that Includes All of Us’ [Op-Ed]

By Rosann Mariappuram Jan 29, 2020

Earlier this month, we commemorated 47 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States. But those of us in communities and states across the country who are fighting for true reproductive equity and justice know that we can’t just pick up the fight when it’s making headlines. We have witnessed first-hand the escalation of attacks on abortion care and reproductive health even with the landmark ruling in place—and we know that, unsurprisingly, those attacks have disproportionately impacted people struggling to get by, women of color, young people, immigrants and LGBTQ+ folks.

So leaders and activists of color in the reproductive justice space are here, together, reflecting on the barriers to reproductive justice—discriminatory restrictions, financial and geographic barriers, stigmatizing hurdles for young people who need abortion care, mass anti-abortion misinformation campaigns—and on our collective vision for removing them. We refuse to accept Roe alone as the standard for reproductive justice and health equity—instead, we must fight for a future that includes all of us.

Terrelene Massey, Executive Director, Southwest Women’s Law Center, New Mexico

I’ve seen first-hand how Indigenous women and communities face too many barriers to have our basic needs met—and that includes access to reproductive health care. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has prohibited the use of federal funds to cover abortions for those who access health care through Medicaid or the Indian Health Service. Hyde and other intersecting, discriminatory policies have worked together to hack away at the full promise of Roe v. Wade for Indigenous people.

We’re fighting for a future that includes all of us, and leaves no one—including Indigenous people and those of us living on reservations, Indian land and in rural areas—behind. Our work must do more than sustain abortion rights as they are. Reproductive health care must be affordable and geographically accessible for the most marginalized communities, and to achieve this vision for all of us, we must follow the lead of the Indigenous women and people most impacted by this fight.

Rosann Mariappuram, Executive Director, Jane’s Due Process, Texas

Despite the legal protections granted by Roe v. Wade, young people in the U.S. still have to navigate a complicated web of restrictions to access abortion care. Anti-choice lawmakers in Texas and other states have put up legal barriers that make teens travel for hours to reach the closest clinic, pay out-of-pocket because of insurance bans on abortion, and force teens to listen to state mandated "counseling" that is medically inaccurate and designed to shame and stigmatize abortion care. And never during the passage of these anti-choice laws are the voices of young people centered. This is what Roe looks like in real life for large swaths of the country. This is why we must do better by young people.

Young people deserve honest, accurate information about sexual health and family planning, as well as access to birth control. When a teen makes the decision to have an abortion, they should be able to access the care they need without facing barriers like parental consent and notification laws. Teens who call or text our 24/7 hotlines receive confidential information on abortion and birth control options, including how to obtain a judicial bypass. As the only organization of its kind in the country, Jane’s Due Process is determined to center the needs of the teens we serve. We are fighting for a future that recognizes the power of young people and centers them in conversations about reproductive health care.

Cherisse Scott, Founder and CEO, SisterReach, Tennessee

In my own life and throughout my years as a reproductive justice advocate in the south, I’ve watched and experienced first-hand how anti-abortion extremists have waged an all-out information and public health war targeting vulnerable women, girls and individuals who give birth. On top of abortion bans, coercive birth control practices, mandated policies obstructing access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education, and fake clinics target Black and Brown communities intentionally to control our births. Their lies, propaganda and disingenuous care for our lives and families pose one of the most significant threats to abortion access we have seen in my lifetime. As they work to dismantle Roe v. Wade, we continue to educate our base to protect and prepare themselves. It is an important service as our administration refuses to protect the very lives it claims to care for.

Our fight for a Roe v. Wade that works for all of us, no matter where we live, how old we are, or how much we make, must include standing up to the thousands of fake clinics across the country that are targeting marginalized people who seek care. However anyone may feel about abortion, we can all agree that everyone should have access to accurate information, quality medical care and the full range of pregnancy-related services. The decision to become a parent is too important—we can’t allow it to be taken away by politically-motivated bullies and moral scam artists

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, Texas State Policy Associate Director, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Texas

Over the last several years, states have become the battleground for abortion restrictions. The recent wave of abortion bans coupled with existing restrictions like the Hyde Amendment disproportionately impacts people of color and people with low incomes, including Latinas struggling to make ends meet. When Texas passed a law in 2013 that erased a critical health care safety net of clinics across the state, Latinas in border communities lost their access to abortion care and other healthcare. Texas shows us that a right to abortion on paper—what the decision in Roe guaranteed—is not enough.

There is no justice until all of us can get the care we need in our communities with dignity and respect. Our vision for Roe will be realized when all of us—no matter our income level, zip code, or immigration status—have equitable access to health care. Women of color have been organizing in states like Texas for decades to ensure reproductive justice for all and this is a fight we know we can win—and a fight we must win.

Jan Robinson Flint, Executive Director, Black Women for Wellness, California

Across the country, Black women and girls in particular face the most formidable threats to maternal health, health equity and abortion access. We face rising maternal death rates, higher rates of criminalization and incarceration, and far too many additional barriers to freedom and autonomy over our bodies and lives. All of these barriers and oppressions interact to exclude us from the full promise of Roe v. Wade and subject far too many of our families and communities to vast, life-threatening health disparities.

At Black Women for Wellness, our vision of Roe v. Wade is one that guarantees equitable, real access to abortion and reproductive health care for all, and a society in which Black women and mothers can access the full range of resources they need to thrive. This requires a thoughtful, holistic understanding of reproductive health that includes not just pregnancy and abortion, but also maternal health, sexual health, and dignity and justice for incarcerated people. We’re as committed as ever to closing the health disparities gap experienced by Black women and girls, and raising the level of health services for all women.

Rosann Mariappuram (she/her) is a lawyer, advocate and executive director of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that ensures legal representation for pregnant minors in Texas. She is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and is the proud daughter of immigrant parents. Follow Mariappuram on Twitter @ReproRose.