Reproductive Justice Advocates Imagine an Obama Future

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Reproductive Justice Advocates Imagine an Obama Future

Pamela Merritt

As we count down to the end of the Bush presidency and the beginning of the Obama Administration, Pamela samples the views of a few reproductive justice activists to find out what progress they hope to see come out of the next four years.

Like millions of Americans,
I watched history being made Election Day when America elected Senator
Barack Obama as our 44th President.  Even as I savored
the joy of having witnessed history, I wondered what the Obama Administration
would tackle first.  Since Election Day I have speculated about
how the Obama Administration’s to-do list will match up to my expectations — I know that I am not alone.  As we count down to the end of
the Bush presidency and the beginning of the Obama Administration, I sampled the views of a few reproductive justice activists to find out what progress they hope to see come out
of the next four years.

Loretta Ross, National Coordinator
for SisterSong
Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective
shares some of SisterSong’s priorities has for the Obama Administration: "The Hyde Amendment
restricting abortion funding for poor women should be eliminated. In
fact, all abortion restrictions should be removed, including the Global
Gag Rule, and federal prohibitions that affect Native American women,
women in the military, women in the Peace Corps, incarcerated women,
and women in the District of Columbia.  The sexual
rights of young people should be respected and protected, including
the rights of young mothers. Women should
have the right to accept or refuse medical care, ending forced Caesareans. Women should have
the right to use midwives to deliver their babies and midwives should
not be criminalized for providing these services. New reproductive
technologies should be regulated to ensure they are not socially abused
by greedy profiteers. Disabled, immigrant,
gender non-conforming, transgender and queer people should have the
same reproductive rights as everyone else.

"Stop shackling pregnant,
incarcerated women during labor and delivery and, in fact, investigate
all reproductive abuses against incarcerated women to ensure they have
the optimal opportunity to have healthy babies and to use contraceptives. End citizenship
documentation requirements for healthcare. Healthcare should be affordable,
accessible and safe for all people. The human right to health is not
negotiable based on immigration status. Eliminating STIs
and HIV/AIDS should be reprioritized with adequate funding for ending
these diseases in communities of color, including supporting female
condoms as well as male condoms, and expanding research on microbicides."

Ann Whidden, Internet Director National
Sexuality Resource Center
, says: "I, and my colleagues at
the National Sexuality Resource Center, feel like this is a huge opening
to re-examine how healthy sexuality is thought about and promoted.
We don’t want to think about merely regaining the ground lost by damaging
abstinence-only policies, because moving back to ‘comprehensive’ sex
ed would be doing just that — moving backwards. We would like for the
administration to pay heed to the data and research out there and implement policies and programs
that make comprehensive sexuality education that is truly comprehensive — that
are based in the promotion of healthy sexuality, not just disease or
pregnancy prevention — and that look at how faith, gender, culture, orientation
and age intersect with our sexual selves. This is our moment to truly
re-vision how we want our young people to function as sexual beings,
and to give them the tools, the knowledge and the context to allow them
to make fully informed, healthy decisions about all aspects of their
reproductive and sexual health."

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Jill Filipovic, Feministe, says: "I think first he should
focus on health care — universal coverage, of course, but also on the
myriad other ways to help Americans live their best, healthiest lives.
A lot of that has to happen before people actually get sick, and a lot
of the things that make us sick — or that make us need care — can
be dealt with policy-wise. That means food policy — making sure that
fresh, healthy food is widely available and affordable, and that pesticide-free
and additive-free foods aren’t only for the privileged that can afford
it. It means holistic aid to low-income families with children — making
sure that parents and children have the care they need, and that single
moms don’t have to work two or three minimum-wage jobs in unhealthy
environments just to provide the basics. It means responsible environmental
practices so that we’re breathing clean air and eating clean food. And
it means reproductive health policies that treat women like human beings
in need of health care, not political ping-pong balls — requiring insurance
companies to cover birth control just like any other prescription, fact-based
sexual health education, abortion access, and high-quality pre-natal
and well-baby care for all women." 

Jessica Arons, Director Women’s Health and
Rights Program Center for American Progress
, says: "I’d like an administration that respects women,
shares information rather than hiding or distorting it, and works hard
to improve people’s lives."

Mikhaela Reid, feminist cartoonist, of Boiling
, writes: "For a cynical, jaded angry
political cartoonist such as myself, the fact that I feel any hope at
all is a REALLY huge deal. I am surprisingly hopeful for reproductive justice under
an Obama administration. Of course, after Bush, we’re
all suffering from lowered expectations. We can
realistically expect he’ll appoint progressive (or at least somewhat
liberal) Supreme Court Justices who will defend Roe v. Wade and interpret
laws in favor of reproductive justice.  We can expect that he’ll
repeal the global gag rule, which I hear is very likely (though our
next GOP president will probably reinstate it). Beyond that, I’m not
yet sure. I’m not sure how much he
will or can do about the state-by-state erosion of reproductive justice
— the laws, policies and intimidation that make it near impossible
to get a safe legal abortion in so many states. The onerous waiting
periods, the parental notification laws, forced ultrasounds, and so
on.  Despite Roe, it’s near-impossible — whether financially,
geographically, or otherwise — for many women to exercise anything
even approximating a ‘choice.’ And even though Obama is
pro-choice, I’m not sure how much of a focus reproductive justice will
get in his presidency, or how much of a priority it is for him amidst
all the other shit currently hitting the fan-the economy, the war,
and so on. He’ll do the right thing when it comes up, but will he really
dig into the issues beyond just the basic legal rights? He does have
a background as a civil rights lawyer, so I’m cautiously optimistic."

These women expressed many
of my own hopes and concerns for the Obama Administration.  I am
optimistic in a way I haven’t been for nearly a decade and yet I worry
that our nation’s economic challenges will limit what we can actually
accomplish.  When I discussed the historic election with a woman
I mentor at a local shelter and asked her what she wants to see out
of the new administration, she replied, "I’ve already seen it and
felt it.  We’ve got hope, right?  And a nation excited for
change."  I’ll add that we have a lot of work to do and I’m
excited to get started.