Mamas in the South Continue the Fight for Reproductive Justice

by Bianca Campbell

Campbell is a doula and reproductive justice organizer at SPARK Reproductive Justice Now. She is also proud to be a member of Echoing Ida, using the potential of social media to promote the reflections of Black women.

The image is a painting. Three women of color are present in front of a light blue background that has a light, repeating pattern. The woman on the left is shown from the chest up. She is wearing a white shirt, her black hair is pulled back, and she is cradling a newborn in her arms. To the right of her is an older woman in a wheelchair. She is wearing a orange robe, is looking down and smiling. On the right of her is a woman who appears to be on her knees. She is dressed in a brown shirt, has her head bent, and both of her hands are on the woman in the wheelchair. To the upper left of the their images read the words: "A Lifetime of Care. Cuidado de por Vida."Too often public discourse on the reproductive and sexual rights issues of women living in the U.S. South, as well as the Global South, describes women as perpetual victims of their location and circumstances—especially Brown and Black women. In an effort to highlight the gross social and economic disparities, these narratives lose sight of the fierce feminist organizing happening in these regions. Even well-intentioned reproductive justice leaders can forgo balanced remarks by focusing on the injustices.  This is simply detrimental to our movement.

Instead, let us foreground the dynamic reproductive justice work happening in the South and debunk the myths that we are helpless, uneducated, and in need of rescuing by the North! This Mama’s Day join SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW as we honor three amazing Black mothers and celebrate the resilience of women social justice leaders who continue to pave the way for our reproductive freedom in the South and the nation.

What We Face . . .

Recently, legislators in Arkansas passed a twelve-weeks ban on abortion care.  Doctors, women, and families are already countering this anti-choice measure with public demonstrations and suing the state of Arkansas to repeal the ban. Shortly after the Affordable Care Act was announced, a number of Republican Governors, concentrated in the South, publicly denounced implementation of vital aspects of healthcare reform including opting out of the state exchange programs and refusing to expand Medicaid eligibility. Yet, advocates of reproductive justice are gaining ground and can mark important wins in the current hostile climate.

Women of Mississippi and their families prevented the closing of the state’s last-standing abortion clinic in April. Also this month the South Wind Women’s Center, a full-spectrum reproductive healthcare practice including first- and second-term abortions, became available to women in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita and outlying areas have not had access to abortion care since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009. Finally, Georgia saw less anti-choice legislation introduced this legislative session than in the last two years. Yet, a twenty-week abortion ban did pass. But prepared women and families are gearing up to fight this anti-choice legislation. We have already won an injunction on the law, as the ban is currently being debated in the state court for repeal.

Our past success will influence future victories, so we must always reflect and refuel. 

What We’re Working Towards . . .

A new poll reveals that, despite the tactics by the Right, African-Americans are still overwhelmingly in support of protecting a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. This poll also reveals that a majority of African-American adults affirm comprehensive sexual health education and access to preventive healthcare. These important survey results demonstrate that we, as Black women leaders, have the needed support to keep advocating for the health issues that members of our communities say they want.

At SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW we situate our work at the intersection of health, economic, racial, and gender justice knowing that today’s freedom fights require fearless dynamic approaches. We know that Cissexism, compounded with other systemic issues, leaves many trans and gender non-conforming people without health insurance to cover their mammograms, prostate exams, pregnancies, abortions, and any other procedure deemed by society to be contained in one gender. Therefore, we are working towards affordable, accessible, full-spectrum reproductive healthcare for all of our chosen families. We continue to create necessary spaces for political and social empowerment for queer and trans youth of color through our media camps and leadership trainings. Finally, in order to actualize legislative change, we must stay involved, so SPARK will continue working with our constituency through our civic engagement initiative.

Celebrating Southern Mamas!
A painting of a brown-skinned woman, sitting cross-legged in a multi-colored dress. She is stylized, with one giant eye, her hair is black and white in coiled rolls. She is holding a large circle and a flower floats above her left hand. There is a pattern on the left side and the bottom. There is no caption.
Women in the U.S. South and in the Global South want our expertise, our legacy of resistance, and our bodily autonomy respected. We stand on the shoulders of the brilliant Black women from the South who have long been rebelling and demanding social justice—women like Fannie Lou Hammer, Coretta Scott King, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ruby Sales, Tracee McDaniel, Mary Hooks, and Marylinn Winn. We stand on the fertile ground they left for us and recognize them as the greatest Mama’s Day blessing of all!

In the end, as you think about and discuss the South, remember to shift your focus from what is wrong in our parts of the world, and instead, remember and foreground our legacy of success. On Mama’s Day, understand that women in the South have autonomy and refuse to be paternalized by the state, the North, or anyone else. Stand with us and support our leadership, respect our lived experiences, and honor our herstories!

This blog is part of the Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blogStrong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.

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