Universalism & Solidarity in a Post-Roe Landscape
VOL. 2 ISSUE 1
In the absence of a legal foundation for abortion care, solidarity amongst communities of color requires meticulous attention to history and strategy.
ON JUNE 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the constitutional right to abortions protected under the 1973 landmark ruling, Roe v. Wade. The decision, issued in a case concerning Mississippi’s 15-week ban on abortion, has opened the doors for dozens of states to take steps to ban it outright. As I’m writing this solidarity note, at least 15 states have abortion bans in effect: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. The prohibitions range from a complete ban on abortions to banning abortions at 18 weeks of pregnancy. These states are among the poorest in the country, with large populations of Indigenous, Black, and immigrant communities. In the absence of safe, timely, and affordable abortion care; people are forced to travel hundreds and thousands of miles to access medical care or carry pregnancies to term against their will. This is a gross violation of human rights.
Abortion bans can be traced to the brutal legacies of slavery, where Black women were treated as sexual chattel. Hence, they are rooted in white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, anti-Black violence. Such racist laws deny systematically marginalized communities the right to control their bodies and futures. About 60% of people who need abortion care each year are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Against the backdrop of this country’s legacy of racism and discrimination, Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities, LGBTQ+ communities, people with low incomes, and those living in rural areas tend to face greater barriers to quality health care, childcare, and job opportunities.
Oriaku Njoku, Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, shares:
"This [abortion] is not something where it's either: make a choice to choose to be a parent or not to choose to be a parent. There are so many things like access to food, access to a living wage, access to insurance, your race, your gender, your ability to make money for your family."
According to the World Health Organization, almost half of the 121 million pregnancies across the globe each year are unintended. Each year, over 44,000 people die from unsafe abortions, and millions more suffer serious, often permanent, injuries. Restricting access to abortion drives pregnant people to use unsafe methods. For example, Pakistan has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, but the lack of access to abortion care makes it one of the deadliest places to get an abortion. This much is clear: abortion access saves lives. This is why reproductive justice advocates have been fighting for the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, or not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. The reproductive justice framework calls for every possible effort—whether through policies, social services, and community relationships—to address intersecting oppressions, create alliances across identities, analyze power systems, and center the most marginalized among us.
Reproductive justice allows us to understand access to abortion as a critical piece of economic, healthcare, and gender justice battles: the way we treat birthing people and families impacts how we build stronger and healthier communities. For example, the right to contraceptives only ensures that people can get a prescription for them. But for a low-wage worker who is uninsured, how can they afford to take a day off and pay for the contraceptives? By thinking outside of the rights framework—where we are only fighting for the right to abortion—reproductive justice acknowledges the socio-political and economic inequalities that are disproportionately faced by BIPOC communities.
South Asian American communities in general and survivors in particular, live at the intersection of multiple oppressions which make the overall consequences of lack of abortion access, particularly grave. Without access to healthcare resources in the many languages spoken across South Asian diasporas, and culturally imposed shame and stigma around accessing reproductive healthcare, South Asian communities experience marginalization at multiple levels. Even apart from the lack of policies that support access to hospitals and clinics trusted by South Asian communities, there is simply no insurance for healthcare needs specific to these communities. Lack of such policies work as barriers to healthcare and reify the long-established history of racism and its many inequities.
For South Asian survivors the consequences are even more grave. People in abusive relationships are far more vulnerable to sexual assault, birth control sabotage, reproductive coercion or control, and misinformation about their reproductive rights. In most cases, murder by an intimate partner is the leading cause of maternal death during pregnancy and the postpartum period, as mentioned in the SOAR Collective Statement.
The Liberate Abortion—a coalition of over 150 member organizations—is currently one of the largest BIPOC-led reproductive justice and rights coalitions in the United States. Liberate Abortion was founded out of the realization that the struggle against the threat to abortion access cannot be fought by a single organization, healthcare provider, organizer, or donor. This is why the coalition focusses on community mobilization, electoral organizing, changing cultural narratives, federal outreach, and policy reform. The staff, leaders, and members coordinate with stakeholders such as movement partners in legal defense and practical service delivery spaces, cross-movement partners, funders, members of Congress, and the Biden administration on information sharing and strategy. Although the coalition solely focuses on abortion funds and clinics in the United States, frontline activists from the Latin American Green Wave movement have joined the coalition to share lessons from their campaigns to expand abortion access across the continent. In the last two years alone, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia have decriminalized or fully legalized abortions.
The Supreme Court’s attack on the right to abortion access leaves several fundamental human rights open to contestation. These include the right to vote, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and a host of other rights intertwined with the right to liberty protected through Roe v. Wade.
As access to abortion gets further criminalized by politicians and companies that sell our data to anti-abortion lawmakers and legislators, privacy activists and lawmakers need to also shift their approach. According to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the past 15 years have seen a shocking spike in arrests and prosecutions for crimes related to stillbirths, miscarriages, and alleged drug and alcohol use during pregnancy.
The legal advocacy and policy support group If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, documented over 61 cases that occurred between 2000 and 2020 in which people were criminally investigated or arrested for allegedly self-managing abortions or helping someone else get one.
Only this year in August, Facebook gave Nebraska police access to a teen’s private messages which they used to prosecute her for getting an abortion. The fight for reproductive justice includes battles against surveillance and policing. These are the tools of the right wing to expand their control over bodily autonomy. For South Asian Americans this is a critical time to shift away from calls for increased policing to visionary organizing that is rooted in the desire to build safer communities.
Some of the ways we can express solidarity are to get involved in volunteer services and mutual aid networks. Abortion fundraisers like the ARC-Southeast are coordinating funding and logistical support for people who need abortion access in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. For the South Asian & Indo-Caribbean diaspora, HEART to Grow is sustaining a reproductive justice fund for Muslims across America, while domestic violence organizations like API Chaya ally with abolitionist efforts that close youth jails across Seattle. The fight for reproductive justice must be both localized and nationalized—to aid and abet folks seeking abortion access, while electing prosecutors, judges, and elected representatives committed to the long-term strategy of ending criminalization, punishment, and harassment by the state, institutions, and individuals.
Perhaps Roe was never enough to safeguard abortion rights or protect abortion access for all people. We are building a future in which abortion is liberated for all of us, no matter where we live or how much money we have, no matter our race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. We need to organize, build power, and create a country where our values are reflected in democracy. We will continue to provide life-saving care for those who need it the most, and we will continue fighting until every one of us has access to the care we need, when we need it, without stigma or fear. We need to develop networks of solidarity. ▢
If you are a person who needs abortion care, reach out to a provider immediately. If you’re looking for an abortion provider, go to INeedAnA.com. Campaigns like Abortion On Our Own Terms are supporting folks with knowledge on self-managed abortions, while organizations like PlanCPills are distributing and providing information on how to access abortion pills online. We must all be vocal and support people who have abortions and providers who provide care every day. This means funding local abortion clinics to keep the clinics open, volunteering and donating to local abortion funds to ensure that people have support, funding, and access to care, telling your own abortion story, and listening deeply to the stories of people you love.
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:
Artwork by Hafsa Ashfaq. Digital media.
Roe v Wade
Legacies of Slavery
The Right to Contraception
Latin American Green Wave
National Network of Abortion Funds
South Asian SOAR
SHARMIN HOSSAIN is a Bangladeshi-American queer Muslim organizer and artist, from Queens, New York. Sharmin was the Campaign Director of the Liberate Abortion Campaign, the country’s largest coalition of over 150 reproductive justice and rights organizations, clinics, and abortion providers fighting for liberated abortion access.