Grace Ramsay, LSRJ Summer Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) Intern (’16, Smith College)
In the RJ community, word travels fast. Scary fast. So after the New York Times posted a well meaning yet misguided article regarding Planned Parenthood’s shift from its pro-choice framework, all of my feeds blew up with conversation, from Twitter, to Facebook, to my LSRJ intern email. The article seems to credit Planned Parenthood’s recent (actually, three-year old) move away from the phrase “pro-choice” as being innovative and in-touch with today’s women. The problem is, women of color adopted this stance over two decades ago with the term reproductive justice. LSRJ took part in a Twitter storm using the hashtags #KnowYourHistory and #StopErasing as a chance to re-educate — or perhaps introduce — folks on the beginnings of beyond-choice reproductive justice activism. I understand being sick of educating again and again people who are supposed to be our allies, but I also sense the hope of strength in numbers of more people “tuned in” to reproductive justice tenets. I was surprised when I sat down with some older family members later in the day, family who considers themselves feminists, very involved with current issues regarding reproductive health, etcetera. They asked me “Why would we want to move away from the word ‘choice’ ?” I launched into my well-rehearsed explanation of the history of reproductive justice. They seemed unmoved and I wondered if our differences in approaching the issue were too big to cross. My family members are white, upper-class, educated folks who can separate out abortion from other RJ issues because of their privilege. They spent their adult lives advocating for abortion access and birth control — “of course we believe in choice!” For me, it’s about more than abortion and birth control. For me, it’s about access to high quality preventative healthcare, and childcare to those need it. It’s about validating queer relationships. It’s ensuring everyone can live free from sexual abuse and coercion. It’s about so much more than Pro-Choice vs. Anti-Choice.
Loretta Ross was a guest lecturer at Smith College this past year and I will never forget how moved I was listening to her during my Introduction to Study of Women and Gender class. She explained how choice alone did not make sense of the reproductive oppression that women of color faced. It was Loretta Ross and that class that made me realize RJ spoke to me more than anything I’d ever studied. We can’t erase barriers to reproductive injustice by only focusing on abortion when large populations of women have been forcibly sterilized, exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace, or been shackled to a hospital bed in labor. Why is this difficult to communicate to people who have long taken a pro-choice stance? I have no answers, but it always seems to come down to power and privilege. While I’m glad that Planned Parenthood is acknowledging that abortion is but a facet in women’s reproductive freedom, I hope that we will continue to honor the true foremothers of the RJ movement.