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Tue Jan 22, 2013, 09:23 PM

roe at 40: reproductive justice for black women

Roe at 40: Reproductive Justice for Black Women

The arrival of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade has come today with the expected media commemorating (or in the case of the antis, vilifying) the occasion. From the “where are they nows” to the current state of reproductive politics, what remains glaring to me again, particularly since 2012, is the continued lack of women-of-color voices represented in the mainstream debate on reproductive justice. Well, on this, the 40th anniversary
Roe v. Wade, I want to remind everyone why this black woman will continue to fight for reproductive justice.

I am the granddaughter of two African women who, in their lifetimes in rural Africa, bore more than 10 children each. They were women married as teenaged girls, because that is what you did in their culture when you reached puberty. My mother, the eldest child born to my then-15-year-old grandmother, looked at the one option she had for a life and wanted no part it. She decided to become a nun (yes, the irony that she used the Catholic Church to escape having children is not lost on me), because as a nun she could seek education, train to be a medical professional and travel the world. It brought her to America, where she met my father, decided she actually did want to be a mother, and the rest is history.
. . . .

Black women have have had to struggle for ownerships of our bodies and our lives. In the antebellum American South, black women feared sexual assault from the white men who owned them; fear of their children being sold away from them; fear of being sold away from their families.When slavery lifted legal ownership over black women, that was not the end. Black women and other women of color lived in fear of forced sterilization, even in the late 20th century. Some black women would enter clinics, often for a routine operation, and wake up sterilized, as happened to the famous civil and women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Or imagine going in for a routine checkup, be coerced into taking birth control and then find out what you really got was a sterilization shot–as did two young sisters, Mary Alice, 12, and Minnie Relf, 14, in 1973. Their subsequent case, Relf v. Weinberger, resulted in the uncovering of more than 100,000 federally funded involuntary sterilizations. Half of the women sterilized were black.

While Roe v. Wade was won 40 years ago, the victory was short-lived for many women of color with the passage of the Hyde Amendment. Hyde prohibited Medicaid funding for low-income women being used for abortion, and it disproportionately affected women of color.
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