Achieving Reproductive Justice Is Also a Fight for Citizenship


In this op-ed, Marcela Howell, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, explores how reproductive justice is also a fight for the full benefits of U.S. citizenship.

Since the passage of Roe v Wade in 1973 that constitutionally protected abortion, the reproductive justice movement has been battling to protect the very rights that the landmark ruling was supposed to firmly establish. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe this past June was a major blow — but it does not mark defeat. That’s because the fight for reproductive justice goes beyond securing bodily autonomy: It’s about ensuring full citizenship, human rights, and collective freedom for all, and for Black people in particular.

It’s no coincidence that the anti-abortion faction is moving in lock step with detractors of critical race theory, as well as those actively working to erode voting and LGBTQ rights. Whether it’s dehumanizing the existence of transgender children or rallying a base of voters on bigoted ideas, the function of these policies seem to be one and the same: To take away the history, futures and rights included with citizenship from Black communities and anyone else who pushes the meaning of “citizen” beyond the white, evangelical ideal. Of course, much of this is implicit and currently without direct legal remedy, which makes it all the more insidious.

Since the unfinished business of emancipation, people in power have promised Black people our foundational rights, often sending us to the courts to seek protection. But they have yet to fully deliver on that full promise either through policy or culture change — leaving us to our own devices. The same is true for other structurally marginalized groups, including people with disabilities and those who identify as queer or trans. On the contrary, we must look ahead, bringing our history to shine a light into our future.

Our status as U.S. citizens with the full benefit of equal rights has been withstanding decades-long attacks on our person, our humanity, and our communities. But ​​it seems we’ve not witnessed this level of policy and political attacks since the beginnings of the Jim Crow Era. During Reconstruction, newly emancipated Black Americans fought to exercise every aspect of citizenship promised to them by the 14th amendment. Still victories in the courts, successful businesses, thriving neighborhood schools, and position in the highest elected office were not enough to stave off the violence of white supremacy wielded through legal and extra-legal means. Throughout the last decade, we’ve witnessed similar erosion of rights thought to be established law and the rise of political violence targeting women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ communities.

How can we be considered citizens if we’re not guaranteed our economic, political, and bodily rights? What does it mean for marginalized people, especially Black women, to work so hard to own our rights, as we’ve done so powerfully throughout American history, when we can’t always exercise them and constantly have to fight to protect them?



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