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Radical Women celebrates Black History Month, calling for comprehensive reproductive justice

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Photo courtesy of Radical Women
Photo courtesy of Radical Women

On Sunday, Radical Women's Seattle branch joined with its national partners and the Freedom Socialist Party's Comrades of Color Caucus to celebrate Black History Month in an event called "Black Women Fire Up the Movement for Reproductive Justice."

With two 15-minute speeches by National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice organizer Irene Akingbade and Comrades of Color Caucus coordinator Kristina Lee, the event highlighted the interconnectedness of Black history and reproductive justice organizing.

Defining reproductive justice
To Akingbade, reproductive justice means more than vital access to abortion. It also means the end of disproportionately high pregnancy-related mortality for Black women, who have consistently died at three times the rate of white women, according to the CDC. It means the end of discrimination, like harmful medical racism. It means lifelong access to resources like healthcare, childcare, and education for Black mothers, fathers, and children.

"What I think gets left out, more often in mainstream conversations at least, is how [reproductive activism] is all connected to the ongoing history of this country attacking the bodily autonomy of women, Black people, Brown people, Indigenous people, Trans and Nonbinary people, people who are physically or mentally disabled, undocumented people, and other marginalized groups," she said.

Similar frameworks of reproductive justice were first seeded by women-of-color organizations in the 1990s, who did not agree with the "individualist" approach of the mainstream pro-choice movement. Akingbade's speech evoked the words of "Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice," a group of Chicago women who, in 1994, first coined the term "reproductive justice" itself.

Their definition, a numbered list of rights that extend beyond abortion and into human rights, cites confounding variables of oppression that exacerbate Black women's circumstances, like lack of access to basic healthcare and reproductive education.

Bodily autonomy
This list of rights marked a major turning point for Black women activists and organizations, who cannot subscribe to the single-issue approach of pro-choice advocates, because their bodily autonomy is threatened on several fronts.

"For centuries, Black people have been denied the right to body autonomy," said Akingbade. "It is unsurprising then — with so much at stake and for so long — that Black people, specifically Black women both cis and Trans, and Black Trans men, across the diaspora, have been at the forefront of the fight for reproductive justice since the days of enslavement."

Akingbade also detailed the United States' checkered history with eugenics studies on women of color, which persists today, evidenced by the case of nearly 150 incarcerated women in California prisons who were sterilized without their consent from 2006 to 2010.

California, like more than half of all US states, previously hosted eugenics programs, in which people of color were targeted for forced sterilization experiments that "sought to prevent social ills by seeing that those who caused them were never born," according to an archival investigation by NPR.

In 2020, Dawn Wooten blew the whistle on the Georgia-based Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center where she worked as a nurse, exposing forced and coerced sterilization of women in ICE custody.

Injustices of this severity toward BIPOC women, Trans people, and other minority groups persist today, but are often uncovered or "shut out" by the mainstream reproductive justice movement, Akingbade said.

Meanwhile, abortion access remains a core component of female bodily autonomy, though constantly under intense attacks from policymakers and pro-life lawyers.

Increasing reproductive restrictions
Attacks on reproductive rights have been ongoing in recent months, especially pertaining to the polarizing topic of abortion. Last year's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the first-ever case to explicitly petition for striking down Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, has made it to the Supreme Court with a decision expected by this summer.

In the meantime, in 2022 alone, 39 state legislatures have filed over 230 bills that would restrict abortion access. And they're more likely to pass than ever before. Bills like Florida's 15-week abortion ban, which passed that state's House last Thursday, and Arizona's version of the bill, which passed in its Senate last Tuesday, severely limit access and penalize healthcare providers and counselors involved in abortion services.

These bills will all disproportionately affect families and women of color, said Akingbade. "Non-cis Black people already are disproportionately experiencing body policing and medical discrimination, even compared to their cisgender Black counterparts," she said.

"Without the reproductive rights we are fighting for right now, these injustices will not only continue, but they will accelerate."

Following Akingbade's speech at the Radical Women event, Lee, a self-described "Queer rights activist," added that the fight for reproductive rights "is essential for Black people and Queer and Trans people of color especially."

A socialist feminist approach
Lee began her speech echoing the framework laid out by Akingbade, before furthering the message by discussing the shared political goals of the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women, which call for broad anti-capitalist groundwork.

"Constant attacks on us mean that we cannot focus solely on the right to obtaining abortion and birth control," she said. "Our life circumstances and identities affect not only the choices we have access to, but what we're able to imagine for liberatory futures."

While taking on all of the world's problems at once seems like the main cause of Gen Z/millennial burnout, Lee offered a solution. Citing issues ranging from affordable housing and living wages, to LGBTQ+ rights and climate change, she explained the ways that one common "root cause" is involved: capitalism.

"We live in the belly of a massive capitalist beast that is full of resources. Our community should not be pitted against one another for the resources that we need to survive and thrive," she said. "The struggle for Black liberation is inextricably linked with the struggle to end capitalism."

Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party maintain a theory of radical integration, which requires the end of capitalism, because it "requires the exploitation of women and people of color."

Black women's position is at the core of multidirectional oppression in the United States, and this is why, Lee said, "the most radical demands have come from Black women." Currently, women comprise 57% of the workforce, and are also core providers and organizers for several multiracial and multigenerational communities across the US.

"All of society benefits when the conditions of Black women are lifted," Lee said as she finished her speech and called for mobilization.

"From abortions to doulas," as Lee said, the group called for a comprehensive framework of reproductive justice centered upon basic rights to bodily autonomy for all.

At the end of the Zoom event with just over 115 attendees, $4,935 were raised for the Freedom Socialist Party.

Find the Freedom Socialist Party at https://www.socialism.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fspUS/. Connect with Radical Women via https://www.radicalwomen.org/, or find the Seattle branch at https://www.facebook.com/RWseattle/.