Issue April 15, 2008

Connected Diss: The abortion conversation we should be having

Far too often, I have the nagging feeling that we’re having the wrong discussion. About what? Pretty much darned near everything, but none more so than the endless pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.

During a recent community conversation at the Americana Community Center, Loretta Ross, the national coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, offered what I think is a far more productive framework for discussing the abortion issue.

Ross posits that abortion is only part of the issue of reproductive health and rights, which, she points out, include not only the right not to have a child but also the right to have a child.

On their website (www.sistersong.net), SisterSong defines reproductive justice as an intersectional theory that integrates reproductive health and social justice emerging from the “experiences of women of color whose communities experience reproductive oppression. It is based on the understanding that the impact on women of color, of race, class and gender is not additive but integrative, producing this paradigm of intersectionality.”

The site also points out the following: “The intersectional theory of Reproductive Justice is described as the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, environmental and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights. It offers a new perspective on reproductive issue advocacy, pointing out that as Indigenous women and women of color, it is important to fight equally for (1) the right to have a child; (2) the right not to have a child; and (3) the right to parent the children we have, as well as to control our birthing options, such as midwifery. We also fight for the necessary enabling conditions to realize these rights.”

Obviously that language goes far beyond the run-of-the-mill pro/anti-abortion rhetoric. By using this framework, we can start to see abortion not as an isolated issue of choice, but part of a far more complex set of issues. And the truth is, despite Roe v. Wade, “choice,” like so many other choices, is a right of privilege. If you are poor, or live far from a clinic, there is not much of a choice.

Ross also stressed that abortion needs to be seen as a human rights issue and points to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares the right of every person to live free of slavery. And being forced to bear children is most certainly a form of slavery, as Ross is quick to point out.

On the flip side of the abortion rights issue, the right to have children is every bit as important a matter within the framework of reproductive justice. Although it is an issue in this country, it is even more so in less developed nations that have high maternal mortality rates.

Every year, more than half a million women die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth as a result of economic, cultural and political injustice. More than 99 percent of those deaths are preventable. It also bears noting that as many as 50,000 die from unsafe abortions every year throughout the world.

Ross isn’t saying that choice is not an issue, but rather that it is one of many connected reproductive justice issues that need to be addressed. And that is the conversation we should be having.

Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Contact her at lucindamarshall@feministpeacenetwork.org