After Roe, Who Leads?
The anniversary of Roe v. Wade is right around the corner. UUs have played an important role in the struggle for reproductive rights. We continue to face a strong anti-reproductive health movement from the right. At the same time, we are called to be intersectional in the way we think about issues. How do we do that? We need to take our lead from women of color—leaders of the reproductive justice movement—who have a clear vision of the links between reproductive, race, environmental, class, LGBTQ and disability issues.
In the early 1970s the Women’s Alliance at the First Unitarian Church in Dallas was instrumental in bringing Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court. The congregation’s leaders encouraged the lead attorney, Sarah Weddington, to pursue the case even though she was beginning her career and was not sure she wanted to be involved in such a controversial case. Weddington and members of the Alliance received the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation Ministry to Women Award in 2005 for their work. UUs carry a legacy of standing on the side of women being able to have choices about our bodies and autonomy.
Since Roe, the religious right and anti-abortion movement have undermined Roe, limiting the access to abortions for many women. Most seriously, the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds including Medicaid to fund abortion. State laws, such as Texas’s HB2 law, have forced clinics to shut down. The burden of these laws has fallen mainly on women of color and poor women. While at the same time, there are many issues beyond access to abortion including polluted neighborhoods, forced sterilization, and poverty that affect marginalized women. In the early 1990s women of color held several gatherings to talk about their needs and created the reproductive justice movement, which expands the focus from abortion legality to consideration of a broader range of issues that affect the right of people to have or not have children, raise them in safe and healthy environments, and express their sexuality without oppression.
Unitarian Universalists have taken a lead among faith communities in adopting reproductive justice. In 2008, UUs at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood became interested in the reproductive justice frame and had many conversations with Lynn Roberts, PhD, then board member of SisterSong, a national reproductive justice organization. Mandy Restivo-Walsh and Carol Loscalzo, two Ridgewood women who’d been working on reproductive justice issues their entire lives, brought the issue to the 2012 General Assembly where it was adopted. This put UUs again at the forefront of history as one of the first faith organizations to adopt the reproductive justice framework.
We are in a movement moment for racial justice.
Adopting reproductive justice aligns our women’s issues work with this current moment in history—the push for racial justice and the valuing of black lives. But are our actions in line with this framework? What reproductive justice issues should we be working on in 2016? Whose leadership do we look for in answering these questions?
Join national reproductive justice leaders on January 20th at 1 pm EST. SisterSong‘s Monica Simpson, Miriam Yeung from the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and Tannia Esparza from Young Women United will be answering the question “What does reproductive justice look like in 2016?”
Shaya French is the UUA’s Clara Barton Intern for Multicultural Growth & Witness