Reproductive Justice Questionnaire
by Giulia Tognon
Despite decades of human rights struggles, sexual and reproductive health rights are still not a given in many countries of the world, including those considered progressive. Most alarmingly are the far-right governments and groups that threaten the agency of millions of women and birthing bodies by pushing forward white supremacist agendas.
Many pillars of reproductive rights have been in place in different countries since the 1970s—safe access to abortion and contraception, assistance in family planning, and sex education—yet the violence caused by colonization, capitalist strategies of growth, eugenic technologies of control as well as racial, ableist, and homophobic discrimination still cost many lives and only perpetuate violence. There are many burning questions: from “How do I get a safe abortion?” to “How do I heal from the trauma of violence?” to “Do I want to have a baby in a world where Black people are systematically killed by the police or where Earth is not cared for?”
Discussing reproductive rights means considering multiple scales, addressing the status and delivery of reproductive health services and of movement building; this opens up toward recognizing the interconnections between political, technological, and social infrastructures, policy making, as well as the well-being and lives of entire communities.
Feminist organizers and scholars across the world have updated their agendas, but not without important clashes and debates. It has been, for instance, a matter of rethinking language and policies, with trans activists showing the impossibility of tailoring reproductive rights on the model of the cisheterosexual woman, or there has been the issue of reconsidering our relationship to the environment, with worries over the increasing number of world inhabitants and the advanced collapsing of the planet.
This questionnaire would like to celebrate those individuals and organizations actively working to create safer reproductive experiences while considering the major challenges faced by activists around the world. It takes as its starting point the history, experience, and theory behind the Reproductive Justice movement, founded
in 1994 by a group of twelve Black women in Chicago—an approach to reproductive sexual and health rights that came from the margins and which grew to become main- stream in its eld. We thereby give full credit to the lives, bodies, and knowledge of Black women, women of color, and genderqueer people of color, and recognize the need for an allyship that engages critically with white privilege and resists appropriation.1
Most reproductive rights organizations today are either network or community driven, focused on coalition building and policy making or on sup- porting speci c groups. Are networks effective or is organizing more relevant when addressing a speci c community? How does your organization situate itself and how would you describe your mission and practice?
The framework of human rights—suggested by Global South activists in the 1990s—allows us to consider oppression and justice in its multiple forms. An intersectional approach challenges single-issue reproductive politics typical of neoliberalism, moving away from the binary of pro-life and pro-choice, for instance. Yet many successful reproductive rights campaigns still identify with single-issue advocacy. What are the challenges of a multi-front strategy?
Reproductive justice as a practice should give room to the embodied, intimate, emotional realities of all birthing bodies and encourage self-help and healing processes. Many different forms of reproductive labor are needed to nurture this pro- cess. Have roles changed or new figures emerged in planning, organizing, and delivering reproductive rights? Has the storytelling changed to accommodate further complexities, and is it now being told by previously marginalized groups?
“Against Nature Laws” are often maintained on the basis of some natural order defended as universal and inviolable. This has a dramatic effect on the lives of LGBTQI+ individuals. How important is it for reproductive rights activists to challenge normative roles? Is there space to rethink kinship and family relations?
by Martha Rosenberg
Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito
Our campaign, the National Campaign for the Right to a Safe, Legal and Free Abortion, was one of the proposals of the 18th National Meeting of Women in Rosario, Argentina, in 2003, well before the Internet and social media developed in their current form. It emerged after a period of great popular mobilization in the face of a dramatic economic and political crisis in the country. Our strategy was to include the right to abortion, contraception, and sex education: three focal points in the human rights of women. Prior to this, there were different groups doing advocacy work for abortion, but they were isolated and dispersed across the country. They were mainly urban and middle-class groups, politically oriented to the Left. Since the campaign emerged our goal has been to unify and organize all these dispersed efforts into a single nationwide campaign, guaranteeing the federal character of our country and to achieve a national law. From the beginning, alongside heterosexual women and also men, the movement was joined by the gay and lesbian movements too. We all knew that the denial of the right to abortion was yet another symptom of patriarchy.
Focusing on the right to abortion in conjunction with contraception and sex education inevitably concerns the living conditions of people, determined by variables of class, race, age, and gender, as well as access to basic services, such as housing, health care, and edu- cation. So it is impossible to organize a movement for “reproductive” autonomy without building coalitions and alliances with other movements facing different forms of intersectional oppression.
Paradoxically, focusing on reproductive rights and abortion as human rights has the effect of dispersing the struggles for a community life at the bene t of the “individual.” Individual bodies, protagonists of the right to abortion, are necessarily inscribed in a web of hierarchical systems—which in Latin America is historically linked to coloniality—that must be abolished. The challenge is to maintain the force in the fight for the right to abortion (our focal objective) in continuity with intersectional struggles, to ensure the conditions that will make access to safe abortion possible in the first place.
Today, many people who can become pregnant and who claim their ability to gestate without necessarily identifying with the sex categories of the patriarchal order are voicing their experiences and push- ing for an inevitable change of roles. They claim their freedom to decide on their bodies and their life projects and to resist the very systems of social reproduction in which they are discriminated. Stories and legal texts,
of course, need to change accordingly. In the case of Argentina, the law incorporates all women and people who can become pregnant as subjects who have the right to voluntary abortion.
When thinking critically about reproductive rights, it is clear that sexual practices and relationships are not governed by a natural order but are cultural constructions. Biological processes are culturally interpreted in the context of each social formation. This is the radical difference between humans and other species. Human sexuality is governed by erotic desire and pleasure, formed by the experiences of each individual and not by instinct only.
Norms express the power relationship between the sexes. With the political agency of LGBTI+ groups and technological developments (among other factors) new family and kinship groups have emerged, revealing that these normative orders are neither universal, eternal, nor inviolable; they must be addressed when forming the agreements for the much needed social and reproductive justice that respects the human rights of women and other people who can become pregnant. This task of building new agreements represents both an inter- generational legacy and a challenge for new socio-sexual agreements for contemporary societies.
Obiezione Respinta was established by a small local community of student activists in Pisa. Our first project was to map the pharmacies in our city that were refusing to sell morning-after pills and hospitals that would refuse to perform abortions. Although the organization was deeply rooted in the local area, from the very beginning we collaborated with Non Una Di Meno, a transfeminist network active throughout Italy. We collected reports, data, and information from different regions of the country—the need to map our needs was deeply felt in other cities too.
What had begun as a small, community- based project became a large-scale collaborative work targeted at identifying not only Italian pharmacies and hospitals, but family planning centers and other health care facilities. Being part of an already existing, well-established feminist network made our efforts more effective. We were able to give an overview, uncovering data that had never been systematized before. Working on a community level is fundamental to creating networks on a wide scale. The two organizational models are intertwined. This way of working also aided us with reclaiming rights and making ourselves heard: the media impact of one of our main campaigns, “SOS ABORTO,” resulted in new ministerial guidelines for medical abortion. Being part of a national community gave us the chance to cross paths with other sexual and reproductive rights movements elsewhere too, such as in Argentina and Poland.
When it comes to our approach and political ambitions, intersectionality has always been important and continues to be a major concern for our organization. Yet, given the great stigma Italian people have to abortion, overcoming the “anti-choice/pro-choice” binary logic is not always an easy task. What we see in our country is an actual structural prevention of access to abortion: at least 70 percent of medical professionals refuse to give the procedure for moral reasons. The country’s strong Catholic heritage also allows anti-choice, conservative organizations to be very vocal in the public debate, reinforcing toxic narratives that only portray women as mothers destined to perpetuate the white nation. We know, though, that the problem is much more complicated than this. We know we have to fight the stigma, but we also know that abortion is not always an easy choice. Economic problems exist and there is for instance the need for therapeutic abortion. It is fundamental for feminist movements to claim these issues—more and more they are being appropriated by anti-choice organizations as part of their discourse. Besides abortion, there are the inseparable issues of contraception, sex education, public funds for family planning, access to sexual health care for LGBTQIA people … the whole social and health system needs to adapt to cater for different needs and desires.
In voicing this, we feel the risk of appropriating struggles that are not our own, and yet at the same time not taking an intersectional approach would make our work exclusive and limited. In Italy, this process surely entails opening up the discourse beyond cisgender women to include all bodies when thinking through reproductive rights and access to abortion. We cannot stress enough the importance of how the narrative around abortion varies dependent on the type of body it refers to: abortion for able-bodied, white, ciswomen is stigmatized, while encouraged for disabled or Black women. When it comes to considering embodied realities, the rights of the LGBTQIA community is of great debate in our country, such as recognizing the maternity and rights of abortion of trans men and nonbinary people. This is crucial to us, because being named means existing.
We feel that the abortion narrative has changed a lot in recent years, and projects like “IVG, I have had an abortion…and I’m fine” that claim abortion is not tragic and devastating normalize such a simple and frequent medical practice, which seems so difficult for our society to accept. Reclaiming abortion as an act of self- determination is a challenge to all institutions and social structures built around the figure of the Mother in Italy. But it is critical to overcome this archetype as it blocks the recognition of reproductive work as an actual form of work.
by Nelly Munyasia
Reproductive Health Network Kenya
Networks have proven to be effective in addressing repro- ductive health issues within communities as they bring together like-minded organizations, CBOs, human rights defenders, and individuals who champion for reproduc- tive rights and justice. Often organizations have limited reach to a grassroots level. Although with a coalition it’s possible to scale up and scale down interventions due to shared resources.
Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK) is a network of health professionals in private and public facilities committed to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights, advocacy, and service provision. RHNK’s main strategic goal is to contribute to the reduction of maternal mortality with a focus on its two main causes: postpartum hemorrhage and unsafe abortion. RHNK’s mission is to ensure that health workers are adequately trained and equipped with the skills, knowledge, and equipment to provide essential reproductive health care services, including responding to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. In Kenya, the state does not recognize relationships between people of the same sex and there is no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In our collaborative work, we hold the government accountable to safeguarding Article 43(1 and 2)2 and Article 35 (1)3 in this regard. We use these laws as our anchor to ensure nondiscrimination.
To implement a multi-front strategy requires a deep understanding of advocacy. It requires inclusive representation and the sharing of stories to foster positive change. Often the challenge emerges from a lack of understanding of what a human being is and can be, and the use of more gendered representations which only leave a population behind. Another issue arises when a campaign wants to use a multi-front approach, yet organizations lack the necessary capacity and skills. Often there are issues of misrepresentation leading to stigma.
With the wave of global support for reproductive health justice, conversations have changed and become more inclusive. For instance, the report by United Nations Population Fund 2021, indicates a slow growth of women having more control and power over their own bodies. Yet information from fifty-seven countries shows that only half of adolescent girls and women can make their own decisions about their body autonomy and integrity.
It drops to as low as one in ten in some countries. Kenya is among these countries, where despite having progressive policies on contraception, family planning, and maternal health care, women are still controlled by traditions, laws, and a patriarchal system that denies them self-determination on matters of their own reproductive health and rights. No explicit data is available, although a study by the Ministry of Health in 2021 reports that due to coercion, abuse, and stigma, Kenya loses seven women a day due to unsafe abortions. Strikingly, more women can make decisions around contraceptive use, which could be seen as offering benefits to men.
That said, RHNK has been able to empower women and girls to stand up and speak about their reproductive health issues as well as LGBTQ+ people to boldly tell their stories in their own words; they have also engaged opinion leaders in their communities to share reproductive justice information. The language has also changed to become more embracing and sensitive. This has been possible through capacity building training that offers knowledge and skills in effective communication. To challenge the existing norms is essential in ensuring every individual their human rights, based on the development of inclusive policies and necessary changes to restrictive laws. Furthermore, if we can better advance with more open family structures and creative, positive environments coexisting without stigma, violence, and discrimination, there is possibility for freedom.
by Michalina Augusiak, Julia Minasiewicz, Ida Slezak and KarolinaWieckiewicz
The long process of denying access to abortion in Poland is not just a product of radical Catholic ideology gaining political ground, it is part of a deepening crisis of care, precipitated by decades of neoliberal austerity measures and an all-encompassing privatization of social reproduction. This is why our fight for abortion cannot be limited to abstract calls for reclaiming people’s control over their bodies. It has to be rooted in collective, diverse, and concrete struggles against the oppressive forces of neoliberalism and conservative cultural mores to make it possible for us to access different forms of care, including abortion, freely. In order to work toward this goal that addresses human diversity and individual needs, we need to embrace an intersectional perspective, as well as build strong ties of solidarity with workers who are at the forefront of the movement for a more humane and robust care economy. As activists we also have social needs, including legal, psychological, and financial support; new collectives have recently been created, like RegenerAction who provide psychological support, or a group of local lawyers who protect us from legal injustice.
To reflect on the question of intersectional alliances between ́different forms of care labor, Michalina Augusiak and Ida Slezak recently organized a forum called “Let’s Plan a Reproductive Strike! Forum of Care Practices” in June 2021. The event was intended as a meeting between socialist feminists, abortion organizers, care and health care workers, feminist economists, queer activists, union organizers, and migrant activists. In the face of economic, social, and environmental crises gripping our world, the forum served as a platform to think and talk about our needs, methods, and demands. To create spaces to discuss the possibilities of joint struggles is crucial to fostering strong, collective resistance in the eld of social reproduction. In this respect, kinship is an ongoing process; it pro- vides support but also demands continuous emotional and community care work, which is unfortunately culturally programmed to remain hidden.
When it comes to abortion a lot still needs to be done for people to feel safe about telling their stories publicly. For a long time, and still today, there has not been an appropriate space for sharing these experiences. Those against abortion are not interested in the real stories of real people; their agenda is too often disconnected from reality, and the only stories to be heard are those that back up the anti-abortion narrative. Politicians are also not interested in real stories. The current ruling party Law and Justice is not the only political party that has neglected the need to address the issue of abortion; this neglect has been carried out by both sides of the political spectrum since 1993, when the abortion law was first adopted. This attitude of politicians confirms that it is more convenient to pretend that abortion is a moral and political issue, rather than an embodied experience and a social need. Unfortunately, the pro-choice movement is not always interested in hearing real stories either. Most people do not suffer and are not actually traumatized by their abortion. Yet it seems like we expect people to justify their decisions with certain narratives of suffering.
For instance, the Abortion Dream Team has been working on normalizing and destigmatizing abortion by giving voice to the people through a dedicated website and a podcast called “Co ́s na ‘a’” (Something starting with “A”). It is the beginning of a long journey, and we hope that we will see people sharing their stories everywhere,
not only because they want to but because they are given space to. Abortion stories are crucial to understanding the reality of the situation, to overcome stigma, and to confront ourselves with all the myths and misconceptions we have been fed for so many years. The new spaces in which people can talk about their abortions on their own terms are not interested in using these stories, only in amplifying them.
Today, apart from the physical immobilization due to the pandemic, the inclusion of non-cis people in the abortion rights movement has proven to be an issue. Not coincidentally, the biggest feminist movement in Poland called “Women’s Strike” still reproduces an inherited discourse around ciswomanhood. It is therefore relevant to us to broaden the perspective with a multiplicity of voices. The work of care we conduct is needed more than ever, especially as trans people are now attacked from every side of politics in Poland—the most queerphobic EU country in ILGA-Europe legislation analysis.
Similarly to Great Britain, Poland has also faced conservative backlash by feminist activists to trans people joining the struggle. (It is important to mention that the cisnormative model is still deeply rooted in LGBT communities). This is slowly changing, although this kind of advocacy hasn’t reached the mainstream yet. Those of us working in activist groups and not identifying as a woman while having a uterus, unfortunately have had to realize that we are still not included in the traditional understand- ing of the subject of the feminist fight.
The rise of Swerfism and Terfism in Poland shows that there is a lot to do. Already nearly 70 percent of LGBT teenagers have suicidal thoughts and half are diagnosed with depression. The fear, exclusion, and aggression one has to face daily is also likely to be reproduced between minorities. What is especially important, then, is the intersectional fight and not excluding trans people under the aegis of feminism. We exist and we deserve our reproductive rights, not erasure.
by Na Young
SHARE (center for Sexual rigHts And Reproductive JusticE) plays two leading roles in the Reproductive Justice movement in Korea: one is building a network and the other is leading discourse at a national level. In 2017, we launched the network organization, Joint Action for Reproductive Justice. Since then, not only feminist organizations but also many social justice organizations, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, an organization of women with disabilities, LGBTQIA groups, progressive doctors’ organizations, and progressive political parties, have formed a coalition of thirty-one initiatives.
There is a precedent to this alliance: in 2010, Network for Women’s Right to Decide Pregnancy and Delivery was created, but it dissolved in 2012 when
the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled against abortion. When abortion was raised again as a social issue in 2016, we organized Black Protest Korea rallies inspired by the Black Protest in Poland, and with other feminist organizations we gathered hundreds of people in protest.
In 2017, we felt the need to lead the discussion and to organize effective social power. At the same time hundreds of anonymous women mobilized online to organize their own rallies. We were united in urging the government to repeal the criminal provisions on abortion, but we differed with the online-based communities as they didn’t welcome men and transgender people and maintained a cisseparatist rule. We also realized that the failure in 2012 was connected to how the campaign was framed on the binary “rights of decision versus rights of the fetus.” We decided to introduce the concept of Reproductive Justice and persuaded other feminist organizations and social movement organizations to join forces under Joint Action for Reproductive Justice, with intersectionality as our leading principle.
The co-founders of SHARE first met in 2015, just one year before the abortion issue reemerged, when the organization Women with Disabilities Empathy initiated a research project to review the history of the criminalization of abortion in South Korea. We realized that achieving abortion rights alone would not guarantee women’s reproductive rights. Firstly, we had to acknowledge and address the forced sterilizations and abortions of women with disabilities. It was only then that we could produce the discourse to prove that the South Korean government had not protected the rights of women or the lives of fetuses.
Despite criminalization of abortion in the 1970–80s, the government bene ted from a huge amount of international aid through family planning policies. It established clinics nationwide that provided abortion services, and it offered incentives such as public housing and health insurance benefits to families who had less than two children. Some women with more than two children were forced to have sterilization surgery. Korean society has dealt with abortion for married women as an unavoidable matter, but for unmarried women and especially for minors, it has been treated with complete irresponsibility. People with disabilities, single mothers, poor and sick mothers were often subjected to forced abortions or forced to give up their children for international adoption. These policies were very useful to the government, not only with population control but in achieving economic development, blocking the invasion of communism, and paving the way to capitalism.
By listening to the experiences of the women with disabilities and by understanding the historical context, we were then able to explain the issue of abortion as a matter of social justice. In the Constitutional Court of Korea’s ruling on April 11, 2019, it was noted that a woman’s decision to have an abortion does not exist in a vacuum but is deeply related to her social, economic, and family conditions. The judges ruled the criminal provisions on abortion as “constitutional discordance,” but emphasized the duty of the state to instead punish women. Through the concept of Reproductive Justice, we invited activists, advocators, policy experts, medical professions, media, and some politicians to consider different standpoints on the decision. I think it is not a “multi-front” but an “organic-front.” I also believe we were part of a paradigm shift in terms of our con- text (and its transnationality) and the fact that intersectionality was the key point of our strategy.
As co-founders of SHARE we keep advocating for abortion. In one of our recent publications, lawyers, doctors, researchers, activists wrote articles dealing with abortion issues from historical, legal, religious, medical, eugenic, and sexual perspectives. Many of us are queer and we believe we should protect the reproductive rights of transgender, intersex, queer, and non-queer people. Queer activists have also been campaigning to urge the government to turn over the family policy and accept alternative models such as civil union, partnership and same-sex marriage. I believe these kinds of endeavors and attempts are effectively widening the recognition of queer communities as well as Reproductive Justice.
On August 16, 1994, a group of Black women gathered to protest a health care reform bill proposed by Hillary Clinton, which despite its progressive potential omitted reproductive rights altogether, reinforcing a male-centric vision of health and the consequent exclusion of women from government measures.
A coalition—calling for reproductive justice—was then founded on the grounds of intersectionality, with the goal of bridging the gap between race, class, gender, and sexual orientation and acknowledging the interconnected forms of violence and oppression targeting the most vulnerable groups of society: people of color, the poor, the disabled and genderqueer people. At the core of the named Reproductive Justice movement lies the “right to have children, the right not to have children, and the right to have them and raise them in the safest environment of your choice.” The stakes are high as reproductive oppression equals the control of entire communities. As activist Loretta Ross – co-founder of SisterSong – states: “Reproductive Justice allows us to have conversations about abortion while fighting against white supremacy or economic injustice, talking about welfare rights or HIV/ AIDS, of housing, police brutality, and all those things that go on in your communities that are also human rights violations.”
Every person has the right: (1)(a) to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care; (b) to accessible and adequate housing, and to reasonable standards of sanitation; (c) to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of accept- able quality; (d) to clean and safe water in adequate quantities; (e) to social security; and (f) to education. (2) A person shall not be denied emergency medical treatment.
Every citizen has the right of access to: (a) information held by the state; and (b) information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom.