18 August 2010

Access to Abortion is the Fight of the Future

If you've been looking for a clear elucidation of the difference between fighting for "reproductive rights" and "reproductive justice" -- and why a focus on the latter is increasingly important -- you may want to read Amanda Marcotte's excellent article running on RH Reality Check today.

Framing the conversation around a recent episode of "Mad Men" that featured an abortion, Marcotte explains that, unlike in days past, hinging our current battle for reproductive freedom on protecting the right to abortion just isn't enough. The fact is that anti-choice activists are finding more and more ways to restrict access to abortion, even as the right to it stays nominally in place. This chipping away at our ability to actually access abortions (think of the Hyde Amendment, or any of the many restrictions currently winding their way through state legislatures) is particularly damning for low-income women and young women -- who often lack the resources to pay for abortions, or any of the attendant expenses that may come along with them (when, for example, you're forced to travel out of state to find a provider who might even perform the procedure).

Marcotte doesn't just blame anti-choicers for moving us back to a time where only women with resources could access abortion, even if it was illegal. She also faults the pro-choice movement for failing to capitalize on opportunities (like the most recent health care debates) to increase access for women without resources. The price for those strategic failures will be paid by the millions of young women and low-income women who know better than anyone else that these rights mean precious little when you are denied the opportunity to exercise them.

If we want to make sure that we all have the ability to make the same set of determinations about our bodies and health, then the fight on the reproductive health front must be about ensuring access as much as it is about anything else. "We must view abortion rights less as a thing in and of themselves," Marcotte suggests, "and more as a means to the end of access."

That's a notion the Ms. Foundation has been working to make a reality for decades. Over the years we have helped grow a national reproductive justice movement that places reproductive rights and health within a broader social justice context -- and elevates the voices of those who are most affected by failed policies, but least heard in the national debate: low-income women, women of color, immigrant women and LGBTQ individuals. Our past and current support of organizations like Advocates for Youth and SisterSong (both of which Marcotte lauds in her article) exemplifies our commitment to building a world where all individuals are equally able to make their own choices regarding their reproductive health -- not just the privileged few.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: no woman should find herself forced to forgo an abortion because she can't afford one, can't find a licensed provider, or is intimidated out of the procedure. Take the time to read Marcotte's article, and add your voice to the conversation about where the fight to protect our reproductive health goes from here.

Photo: Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris in Mad Men.

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