Reproductive Rights: The Abortion Conversation We Should Be Having

Far too often, I have the nagging feeling that we’re having the wrong discussion. About what? Pretty much darned near everything but none more so than the endless pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.

During a recent community conversation in Louisville, KY, Loretta Ross, the National Coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective offered what I think is a far more productive framework for discussing the abortion issue. Ross posits that abortion is only part of the issue of reproductive health and rights, which she points out include not only the right not to have a child but also the right to have a child.

On their website, SisterSong defines reproductive justice as an intersectional theory that integrates reproductive health and social justice emerging from the “experiences of women of color whose communities experience reproductive oppression. It is based on the understanding that the impact on women of color of race, class and gender are not additive but integrative, producing this paradigm of intersectionality.” The site also points out that,

“The intersectional theory of Reproductive Justice is described as the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, environmental and economic well-being of women and girls, girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights. It offers a new perspective on reproductive issue advocacy, pointing out that as Indigenous women and women of color it is important to fight equally for (1) the right to have a child; (2) the right not to have a child; and (3) the right to parent the children we have, as well as to control our birthing options, such as midwifery. We also fight for the necessary enabling conditions to realize these rights.”

Obviously that language goes far beyond the run-of-the-mill pro/anti abortion rhetoric. By using this framework, we can start to see abortion not as an isolated issue of choice, but part of a far more complex set of issues. And the truth is, despite Roe v. Wade, “choice”, like so many other choices is a right of privilege. If you are poor, or live far from a clinic, there is not much of a choice.

Ross also stressed that abortion needs to be seen as a human rights issue and points to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares the right of every person to live free of slavery. And being forced to bear children is most certainly a form of slavery as Ross is quick to point out.

The flip side of the abortion rights issue, the right to have children is every bit as important a matter within the framework of Reproductive Justice. Although it is an issue in this country, it is even more so in less developed nations that have high maternal mortality rates.

Every year, more than half a million women die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth as a result of economic, cultural and political injustice. More than 99% of those deaths are preventable. Jane Roberts, co-founder of 34 Million Friends of UNFPA points out that. “Lack of family planning commodities and of health care workers to educate about and furnish family planning to eager consumers is the root cause of the 40 million abortions which take place every year, half of which are risky, illegal, unsafe. If the world really cared for its women, this would not be happening. About 70,000 women die during the abortion or the immediate aftermath, millions more suffer temporary or permanent disability. Then they are “compassionately” offered PAC (post-abortion care) by our government and others.”

Yet as a recent UN report points out, the “sharp decline in international funding for reproductive health is threatening global efforts to reduce poverty, improve health and empower women worldwide.” According to Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the UN Population (UNFPA), “The result is increasing numbers of unwanted pregnancies, rising rates of unsafe abortion, and increased risks to the lives of women and children.” Obaid also noted that, ”research indicates that ensuring access to family planning alone would reduce maternal deaths by 20 to 35 percent and child deaths by 20 percent.”

As Ross points out, it isn’t that choice is not an issue, but rather that it is one of many connected reproductive justice issues that need to be addressed. And that is the conversation we should be having.

Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the US and abroad. She also blogs at WIMN Online and writes a monthly column for the Louisville Eccentric Observer. Read other articles by Lucinda, or visit Lucinda's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Raven said on April 22nd, 2008 at 8:13pm #

    At the end of the day, it comes down to what we are teaching our daughters. We, as parents, should not be giving our daughters options on how to escape from their mistakes- they should be taught to avoid making the mistake in the first place. That “compassion” is needed beforehand- not after they’ve done the deed and have to deal with the consequences. Abortion and birth control are choices- but they should be dealt with and taught to our daughters as medical options, not a way to get out of a bad deal with a guy that didn’t want to deal with them. Abortion should be made legal to deal with medical emergencies that could harm mother and/or child.

    We do have a right to bear our children, and we do have the right to stand up and say whether we want them or not. But, this is a right that comes with a responsibility. As a woman contemplating abortion, you have the right to terminate that pregnancy- but you also have the responsibility of making that decision that says whether the person you have living within you is gonna have the opportunity to see the world and breathe its first breath. That is a heavy responsibility, and one that a teenager, or a busy woman, or even a rape victim is going to have to live with for the rest of her life.

    We need to teach our daughters the gravity of this kind of decision. They need to learn what a privilege it is to have a child, and a miracle it is to have a healthy one. They need to understand that having an abortion is killing a baby, and while they do have a choice, they need to understand what consequences will come with the choice they make.

    At the end of the day- TEACH YOUR DAUGHTERS!

  2. Liz said on April 23rd, 2008 at 5:55am #

    I like many of the things I have read on this blog but as a woman and a human rights activist, I feel ALL humans have rights born and unborn. When a heart starts beating, that person, yes person, has rights as well. Are we going to start preaching it is our human right to kill as well?

    Why do we have a choice to kill a child but not our next door neighbor who plays loud music? Moreover, The slavery argument offered in the above post is poor and subjective. If we feel marriage is slavery, do we have the right to kill our husband? I think work is slavery but I am not about to murder my boss and think it was my right to do so.

    Unborn children can’t make choices so we shouldn’t be allowed to make them for them.

  3. evie said on April 23rd, 2008 at 6:27am #

    “At the end of the day, it comes down to what we are teaching our daughters.” Amen.

  4. Lloyd Rowsey said on April 23rd, 2008 at 9:23am #

    when’s the end of the day, evie? BTB, are you a man or a woman?

  5. hp said on April 23rd, 2008 at 9:40am #

    Golly gee, the last time I offered my opinion on matters of birth/children and persona responsibility, I was practically run out of town on a rail, after being branded and tarred…

  6. evie said on April 23rd, 2008 at 10:45am #

    I’m woman.

    At the end of the day, (quoted from Raven) hopefully our daughters have learned responsibility and self-respect and are not in need of abortion services.

  7. Arch Stanton said on April 23rd, 2008 at 11:21am #

    “And the truth is, despite Roe v. Wade, “choice”, like so many other choices is a right of privilege.”

    The truth is that a bunch of high sounding rhetoric and pop-psyche platitudes are not going to affect the 800 billion ton military-corporate vampire that’s sucking all the blood out of social services the world over. You want a conversation? An excellent place to start would be a well-reasoned and researched analysis of the priorities states place on the right and left hands of government, and the ability of popular organizing to have an effect on both.

    “Are we going to start preaching it is our human right to kill as well?”

    I assume by “our” you mean the US of A of which you hold citizenship. The facts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the US, indicate the affirmative. You might be advised to lose the “pro-life” hypocrisy, unless you’re claiming to be a Jain or Buddhist.