The following is part one of condensed remarks given by Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow Laura Nixon on October 6, 2012 at William & Mary School of Law’s Reproductive Justice Symposium, sponsored by their Initiative on Gender, Sexuality, and the Law. Stay tuned for part two tomorrow!
The National Center for Lesbian Rights has been concerned about issues of reproductive health and rights since our founding – and we are grateful to the reproductive justice movement for developing new frameworks to think about issues at the intersection of reproduction and sexuality. Reproductive justice is the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to parent the children we have. In fact, the right to have children and to parent the children formed the basis of the founding of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. We were founded in 1977 because many lesbian mothers were losing custody of their children because of their sexual orientation. Seeing this desperate need, Donna Hitchens – a law student like many of you here today — decided to start the Lesbian Rights Project which eventually grew into the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
My presentation today will touch on the right to have children and to parent the children we have. I will directly address the right not have children, and why issues of access to contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion care have a big impact on the LGBT community – issues that has been raised by a number of activists and organizations working in these two movements. Then, I will describe some specific barriers to reproductive justice for transgender people, and ask us to consider how our LGBT rights movement and reproductive justice movements can be stronger allies in our fights for social change.
The right to have children encompasses situations that LGBT people are already, tragically familiar with — discriminatory state adoption statutes, courts that fail to recognize non-biological parents as full and equal parents, and access to affordable reproductive technologies. The right to have children also requires us to consider issues we may believe are outside of LGBT rights, but also implicate the right to have children, such as the effect of family caps on women in poverty. Family caps impact children in poverty by denying them critical support for their health and well-being – and may have the effect of incentivizing abortion for poor women subject to this policy. It is a profound reproductive injustice for coercive state policies to force people to make these kinds of decisions about having children.
The right to parent the children we have includes if and how same-sex parents are placed on the birth certificates of their children, access to second-parent adoptions, how these parental rights travel across state lines, and how parental rights play out in the case of separation or divorce. The right to parent the children we have also includes combating how the child welfare system systemically punishes poor women of color struggling to raise their children and the devastating impact of child welfare system and immigration, where it has recently been revealed that more than 5,000 children have had the traumatic experience of being placed into foster care while their parents are subject to deportation proceedings.
The right not to have children – access to contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion care – are the focus of my presentation today. The LGBT rights movement and the reproductive rights and justice movements have strong – not just legal and theoretical – connections to one another in this area for several reasons that law professor Ruthann Robson has expertly identified in this op-ed. First, there is a devastating prevalence of rape and sexual assault in the United States, which includes an incredibly high number of lesbians who are raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Secondly, our sexual identity may not always align with our sexual behavior. For example, surveys have consistently shown that many lesbians have a history of sexual contact with men, and that in many of those encounters, no condom was used, thus increasing the likelihood of an unintended pregnancy. Finally, public health research has shown us that queer youth are uniquely susceptible to unintended pregnancy. In fact, several studies have documented that young lesbians are two to ten times more likely to become pregnant than their heterosexual counterparts for a number of reasons that speak to how vulnerable queer youth are to the inadequacies of abstinence-only sex education, sexual abuse and/or substance abuse, homelessness, and the kind of surveillance and harassment that may lead young lesbians to have unprotected heterosexual sex in order to hide their sexuality.
**Laura’s remaining remarks, detailing barriers to reproductive justice for transgender individuals, will be posted tomorrow.**