Reproductive Rights Through An Intersectional Lens

This post is part of our week-long series on the personal impact of the current state of reproductive health, rights, and justice.

by Lutze B.

Lutze is the founder of She is Haitian-American, a writer/blogger, feminist/queer advocate, knowledge broker, a macro-minded MSW, & hip-hop enthusiast.

Roe v. Wade turns 40 this year and for those of us who advocate for feminism, this is our unofficial holiday. So much of the feminist movement is rooted in the right of women to choose when and where to conceive. Therefore, it is only fitting that we take a collective pause to celebrate. As a person who advocates for feminism I am happy that Roe v. Wade is still law. If the Tea Party-backed politicians had it their way, this blog post would be an obituary.

This past Saturday, I was watching the Melissa Harris-Perry Show, which is affectionately known as #nerdland on the twitterverse. MHP and her panel of guests, which included Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, were discussing reproductive rights and the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Then the most remarkable thing happened: MHP — on national television — made the admission that she has given birth, had an abortion, and had her uterus removed (that particular moment is at 2:42). MHP spoke frankly about her Black sexual body on a cable news network on a Saturday morning, and this casual, yet powerful admission was said only two days before the US inaugurates its first African-American President for his second term.

Now, in the age of too much information and with our collective propensity as social media users/addicts to overshare, this may not be seem a like a big deal. However if you examine this happening through an intersectional lens, you will see the gravitas of the moment.

Growing up I was never given any real information about my body. The only thing I was taught was to fear my body and to fear what it was capable of doing. I was told the most nefarious thing that my body could do was bear a child. I was also taught implicitly that my “virtue” as woman had the unprecedented power to sully the surname of my family. Growing up, I thought it was just a Haitian thing, that only Haitians don’t discuss sex with their kids. As I grew older and formed friendships with other Black women of varying cultures, I quickly understood that guilt and shame of the female form was a diet that many of us were forced to metabolize.

Whenever we speak of reproductive rights we tend to do so as if these rights are equally distributed to all women regardless of race, class, gender presentation, or socioeconomic standing. Yet, we know that these various societal variables change the way in which women get access or if they can at all. The fact is women of color have to had to piggyback off the reproductive rights of white women because we were never part of the original plan. A choice for women is a great thing to advocate for, but we must never forget to remove choice off the shelf of privilege and put in a place that can be easily accessible to all women.

Back to MHP: her comment was so darn powerful for me because it subverted the negative narrative of my childhood. Sexual health and reproductive justice it often framed from a white woman’s perspective. Every time I hear talks of abortions it is usually from my white feminist colleagues who will boldly proclaim that they’ve had abortions. However, for feminists of color who are plagued more so by respectability politics, we find ourself in a conundrum. The battle is whether or not we want to embody the Madonna or the whore because for women of color, we are not allowed to live nuanced lives and be complex.

So when MHP spoke of herself as a sexual being who has made a myriad of choices as it pertains to her anatomy, it gave me hope and made me breathe a sigh of relief. Because that is the byproduct of choice and freedom and that is what Roe v. Wade means to me. After all what good is choice and agency if you are always made to feel that you must be silent about it or be ashamed of it?

As a hyphenated first generation American, Roe v. Wade put me in the driver’s seat of my life. I don’t have to hope, pray, and wish myself not to get pregnant. I can arm myself with birth control and if my birth control ever fails me, I know that I still live in a country where I could get an abortion hassle free if I so choose to do so (I live in Miami-Dade County, FL, where it is reasonably easy to access abortion and for that I am grateful).

For the next 40 years, as it pertains to women’s reproductive rights, I want to see more safe spaces for women of color where they can discuss sex openly and frankly so that the majority of us can have less hang ups about talking about sexuality, that we can do it sans shame with our families, our partners, and in public if need be. It is not enough for abortion to be legal if women in certain parts of the United States must travel to a neighboring state to access it. I also want those of us who advocate for feminism to pressure birth control companies to create comprehensive birth control for men that way women are not the ones shouldering the majority of the responsibility of not getting pregnant. And, most importantly, there must also be pressure put on the birth control companies to create birth controls that protect from communicable diseases.

Roe v. Wade is not just about the right to get an abortion. It is about the right to overall sexual health and reproductive justice. Over the next 40 years, I hope to be around to celebrate Roe v. Wade and, more importantly, I expect Roe v. Wade to be around and well.

[Editor’s Note: more people than just cis women need and want access to affordable reproductive health care, including abortion.]

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