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I recently attended a workshop hosted by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland on how to speak about reproductive justice as an advocate. The first part of that workshop focused on what exactly constitutes reproductive justice and that it’s so much more than the availability of abortions. The second part was actually talking about abortion. The workshop is based on the information gathered by Planned Parenthood in a study that took several years on attitudes towards abortion and how language affects it. Following the layout of the workshop, the first part of this post will cover various aspects of reproductive justice and the second will cover how to speak on reproductive justice.
What is included under the term “Reproductive Justice”?
- Safe and legal abortions available to all who need
- Affordable and available birth control and contraceptive options
- Affordable and available health care (pap smears, mammograms etc.)
- Affordable and Available resources to help under-privileged families
- No forced sterilizations
- Comprehensive sex education
- Affordable and Available sterilization options
- Adoption regulations (no child taken from healthy family, no child without a home)
- Adoption options available for any who want to adopt
- No genital mutilation
- Affordable and available transition options for Trans* folk
- Forced pregnancy or forced abortion
- And much more
It’s important that we look at the intersections of oppression. All oppressed groups based on race, orientation, gender identity, intersex conditions, ability, financial status, designated sex are oppressed in this category and we need to look at how their general oppression affects this. Certain racial, orientation, gender identity, ability, and intersex conditions are sterilized against their will. Health options are limited for people of certain financial status, ability, condition, orientation, or gender identity. Comprehensive sex education is even more difficult to find when you’re not straight, cis gender, dyadic, able-bodied, and neurotypical. People of certain orientations or gender identities may be unable to adopt. Children of certain abilities, races, gender identity, or orientation may be more unlikely to be adopted. Many children of different races are taken away from their countries, communities, and loving families in amoral adoption practices.
Try to think of other ways that someone may be oppressed as it relates to reproductive health.
How to speak on Reproductive Justice
The Planned Parenthood website Not In Her Shoes, although gendering and not inclusive to trans* people is a good resource to check out what information and statistics they have gathered in their studies.
It starts with the words “Pro-Choice” and “Pro-Life”. I have definitely seen in my discussion on reproductive justice and the abortion issue that many people I would identify as pro-choice, those who support keeping abortion legal, don’t identify as such and this can create problems. Instead of sticking to these outdated (and in the case of pro-life, plain incorrect) labels that cause people to have an immediate negative response, Planned Parenthood suggests that we say we are pro reproductive justice, and that we want abortions to be legal and safe. The number of people who say abortion should remain legal and safe are much higher than those who would identify as pro-choice, by changing our language we open up our community to more people and gather more supporters. Two Thirds of American Voters want abortion to remain legal, whereas nearly one third of voters do not identify as either pro-choice or pro-life. By using this language we are excluding one third of our supporters.
Another thing that they found was that although people aren’t really comfortable talking about abortion, they do support it as a personal decision. People respond favorably to statements like, “Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a person, and I don’t believe you can make that decision for someone else.”, “A person should have accurate information about all of their options. Information should support a person, help them make a decision for themselves, and enable them to take care of their health and well-being.”, and “Information should not be provided with the intent of coercing, shaming, or judging a person.” These are good to bring up when we talk about legal limits being put on abortion.
Another thing that they found that surprised me is that it works well if you don’t describe possible situations. Something I and many people who talk about reproductive justice is to try to talk about different situations a person may come from who needs abortion. We think that this helps show the diversity of people who need abortions, and show that it could be anyone. In reality, what the find is that what we think are good reasons for an abortion may not be someone else’s. They may have a direct negative emotional response that closes their ears off to what you are saying. What the research showed was that 79% of likely american voters found this simple statement convincing, “We’re not in their shoes. It’s just not that simple.” It is important to recognize that anyone of any background may someday need or want an abortion, but it is better and less judgmental to just state that everyone’s situation is different.
It’s also important, Planned Parenthood found, to avoid using language like “unintended pregnancy”, “unplanned pregnancy”, and “unwanted pregnancy”. When talking about abortion, more people responded more favorably when just using the word abortion, ending a pregnancy, or a safe and legal procedure, when talking about abortion. When talking about the goal to reduce “unintended pregnancy” with birth control or sex education it’s okay to use that word, but not unplanned and especially not unwanted. Many unintended pregnancies are wanted, I’ve definitely had friends that were “accidents” that their parents wanted very much. People also tend to not respond to the concept that you have to plan a pregnancy, so unintended works best. “Safe and Legal” is also what more people responded to as a good goal. “Safe, Legal, and on demand” may turn off people who may consider themselves more pro-life, while “Safe, Legal, and rare” may turn off people who consider themselves more pro-choice.
Something that really hit me in a strong way was this statement that was used in the workshop, “People don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer treatments. Politicians should not be involved in a person’s personal medical decisions.” This is the bottom line, a person should be making this decision with her doctor, her loved ones, and her own faith. Politicians are not medical experts and have no place in discussing a medical procedure.
For me there were a couple of things I’d like to touch on when talking about language and reproductive justice. For me a lot of this issue comes down to consent. Consent to medical procedures, consent to having children, and yes consent to sex. It’s also about having the education and ability to have informed consent.
It’s also important for me to remain inclusive to trans* people while also acknowledging the sexism in legislation that restricts reproductive rights. Like we touched on earlier, a lot of restrictions come down to the intention of oppressing certain groups. To keep people from thriving as much as others, whether that means refusing gender transition, making them care for a child instead of going to college, never finding a family, or to never be able to have a child. A lot of this does stem from sexism, and it is important to realize it even though more than just women are affected. You can use inclusive language that acknowledges more than just women get abortions or need birth control while still being conscious of the fact that regulations are being used in an attempt to control and oppress women.
What are your thoughts? How will this help you frame the way you think and speak about reproductive justice and justice in general?
—Rachel Maddow on unconstitutional abortion ban legislation. via
This panel includes Tarja Halonen, Former President of Finland and the first President of Finland who was a woman; Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Chelsea Clinton, Board Member of the Clinton Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative, and Clinton Health Access; and Yakin Ertürk, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Professor of the Department of Sociology at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara; with Ghida Fakhry, journalist and broadcaster for Al Jazeera, as moderator.
Planned Parenthood opponents respond to a graphic posted on Planned Parenthood Info for Teens that described “queefing” (vaginal flatulence) as no big deal.
Regarding the bottom left comment: understanding and accepting your body has a hell of a lot to do with ones reproductive health and well being. Comprehensive sex education includes more than the standard “sex=std, sex=pregnancy, sex=bad” lesson plan that a lot of young people are unfortunate enough to endure in schools.