Mama’s Day Justice (and Peace)
A few weeks back, I had my husband put in an explicit request to my three grown children for this Mother’s Day. I asked for pictures of my three young grandchildren, not Facebook-posted ones or Flickr for a change: printed out ones in frames, no matter how simple. They will be added to the gallery on our dining room side table, a visual chronicle of a family that has gone from one ethnicity and faith tradition to a multi-cultural, interfaith one in two generations of Americans.
I did not ask for a Hallmark card, not seeing the appeal, but I would not be averse to receiving a Mama’s Day card, a line of contemporary ones portraying the wonderful variety of strong families out there. I would not be averse to a bunch of flowers or some trinket or another, or a virtual brunch (with my progeny scattered all over the country and the world now). But I am right there with UU Julia Ward Howe who, in her Mother’s Day proclamation, called for disarmament and peace—pleading for an end to the training of any woman’s son to injure another.
I wore “Another Mother for Peace” t-shirts when my oldest children were little, joining others in demanding an end to the Vietnam War, and have worn a “Grandmother for Peace” shirt as other conflicts we don’t choose to call wars roll out, one after another. This is what I still want for my children and now their children. And I want so much more.
For many years I labored in the field—the battlefield—of what we called reproductive choice, mobilizing my sibling citizens to protect the legal rights to contraception and abortion that the generation of women and men before me thought they had secured. The right to choose to be a mother or not. In my years as an advocate with a large Planned Parenthood affiliate, and as a young (some would say too young) mother, I very soon viewed “choice” as going well beyond clinical services and legislation that would safeguard the spacing of children and/or the decision not to parent. I saw many women and not-quite women, low income and mostly of color, wanting to have children, to have families that were not cut and pasted out of an episode of Donna Reed. The obstacles were almost overwhelming—lack of access to prenatal care, housing, fair wages, leave time, and childcare—let alone the judgments that followed them when they chose to continue pregnancies.
Much of the work I did, along with coalitions of others, was what we now are calling Reproductive Justice. In the words of Sistersong—one of our partners in the current UU study action initiative—ensuring the right to have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments. Based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, this framework enlarges the context by asking us to look at the economic and racial factors, the systems of either equity or inequity, that impact what we too often have looked at as only a personal decision-making process.
My daughter in in the middle of an endangered, high-risk pregnancy; one that has already involved an emergency appendectomy and now a uterine complication that may well lead to a very early delivery and even a threat to her own life. Her situation is frightening and stressful. However, should her baby be born prematurely—which is likely—she is fortunate to have the health insurance and other means (including proximity to hospitals that have very specialized maternal surgery teams and neonatal units) that give her the best possible chance of having a healthy baby and recovery from childbirth.
Not so for too many other women. One out of every nine babies is born premature in the U.S., a disproportionate number of these African American. On average, black women are about 60% more likely to deliver early compared to white women. The data on other women of color also indicates a disparity, with Latino and Native American babies arriving in higher percentages than the children of white mothers.
A fact sheet put out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains that the “reasons for the difference between black and white women (delivering premature) remains unknown and an area of intense research.”
On the contrary, in an article written in 2013 for The Root, Jannell Ross cited a pair of Emory University studies that connected the large share of African American children born before term with the biologically detectable effects of stress created in women’s bodies after decades of dealing with American racism.
“Racism is an incredibly powerful force,” said Elizabeth Corwin, dean of research at Emory University’s Woodruff School of Nursing.
Including its impact on when an African American child is born.
This Mama’s Day I wish, as always, for peace, and also for reproductive justice. We have the opportunity as UUs to make this happen for generations ahead.
Rev Marti Keller is the affiliated minister with the UU Women’s Federation. Prior to her ordination, she was director of government and community relations for Planned Parenthood Shasta-Diablo in California and executive director of two statewide child and family advocacy organizations. She serves on the coalition council for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.