Tag Archives: reproductive rights

The Reproductive Rights Movement Must Claim Its Role in True Disability Justice

Reproductive rights demonstration; Black woman in center holds sign saying Reporductive Rights for All

Laurie and Debbie say:

Imani Gandy can be relied upon for clear thinking, thoughtful analysis, and on-target conclusions. Her recent article at Rewire, “It’s Time to Stop Talking About Whether Margaret Sanger Was Racist” is a perfect example. Gandy has been involved in working with Planned Parenthood on Sanger’s support of eugenics for the better part of a decade. This article follows her 2015 analysis of Sanger’s racism. In the older article, she makes this case: “Anti-choicers wield misattributed and often outright false quotes about Sanger as weapons to shame Black women for exercising their right to choose, and even more nonsensically, to shame them for supporting Planned Parenthood.”

Six years later, Planned Parenthood’s president and CEO, Alexis McGill Johnson, has written a New York Times op-ed intended to close the conversation about Sanger’s politics and Planned Parenthood’s racist history. Gandy supports McGill Johnson, approves of the stance, and has her own closing words about this topic: “… ultimately—I don’t really care.”

Instead, Gandy wants the organization to move forward and talk about the right-wing shift into a focus on “protecting” fetuses with disabilities:

I know how anti-choicers operate; I know that some will continue prattling on about Sanger’s nefarious intentions to wipe out Black people. But, frankly, blaming Black women for Black genocide and accusing Planned Parenthood of targeting Black women isn’t as fashionable as it once was.

What is fashionable? Weaponizing people with disabilities.

As Gandy lays out, this shift is based in large part on an opinion Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote when the Court refused a case covering “reason bans,” which are abortion bans based on the reason the pregnant person wants to abort the baby:

[Thomas’s] opinion was a diatribe against Margaret Sanger, and it focused on her eugenicist beliefs in a wildly disingenuous way: His opinion was laser-focused on Sanger’s belief in eugenics and “racial betterment,” and reading his opinion, one might think that Sanger was pushing for Aryan rule the way the Nazis did during the Holocaust.

She wasn’t.

Margaret Sanger wanted poor people and the “insane and feeble-minded” to stop breeding, irrespective of their race; when she talked about “racial betterment,” she meant bettering the human race by sterilizing people with disabilities.

We agree wholeheartedly with Gandy: as Planned Parenthood has confronted its founder’s racism and the ways that have affected the organization over the decades, it now must confront its relationship to ableism and disability justice.

By not confronting the cynicism with which abortion foes are weaponizing people with disabilities in order to march toward a world in which abortion does not exist, we are ceding the argument about what true disability justice looks like to anti-abortion advocates who don’t care about people with disabilities.

Even as the reproductive rights movement makes great strides when it comes to racial justice—as evidenced by McGill Johnson’s op-ed—it is failing when it comes to disability justice. And while I, being non-disabled, certainly am in no position to debate the merits of reason bans from the perspective of a person with disabilities, I can say one thing for sure: Conservatives don’t care about people with disabilities, and they certainly don’t care about people with Down syndrome.

Conservatives, in fact, don’t care about people (with a narrow range of exceptions). They certainly don’t care about familles. Gandy quotes an Ohio mother of a child with Down syndrome:

“Our statehouse is controlled by the Republican Party and has been for many years. The same legislators who voted to outlaw abortion of fetuses with DS [Down syndrome] also voted this past year to remove language that would have increased funding to county DD [developmental disability] boards.”

This is nothing new. Debbie is reminded of a 1973 Malvina Reynolds song, “Rosie Jane“:

When that baby is a child,
It will suffer from neglect,
Be picked upon and pecked,
And run over and wrecked,
And its head will be crowned with the thorn.
But while it’s inside her
It must remain intact,
And it cannot be murdered till it’s born.

Reynolds wasn’t thinking about disability, as much as about poverty, and whether or not an individual parent has the capacity to care for a child, in a country which provides little or no economic or social support to children and their parents, then or now. Gandy, 50 years later, is turning her own laser focus on the ways the right wing weaponizes everything it can use, and how that affects the lived experience of both pregnant people seeking abortion and disabled people of all ages.

In order to protect abortion access for all people, reproductive rights activists need to shift their attention to disability justice. If reproductive rights organizations and advocacy groups don’t meet this moment, abortion foes will continue to weaponize the disability community. That serves no one.

The one thing Gandy doesn’t say in so many words, but we feel sure she would agree with, is that disability justice is important in its own right. Fighting for disability justice is much more than a reproductive rights issue; it is an issue which does (or at least should) matter to every single one of us.

In the middle of the article, Gandy says:

I feel like I have been standing in the middle of a crowded room screaming and no one is listening.

It’s time to listen.


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Jewish History, Reproductive Justice, and the Two of Us

Laurie and Debbie say:

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) ended tonight at sundown. The Jewish High Holy Days continue for another week, culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when religious Jews make themselves right with G-d and are written into the Book of Life for another year.

We don’t usually write about Judaism, and we often leave the topic of reproductive justice to others, but the timing of Leanne Gale’s “Jewish History Demands Solidarity with Reproductive Justice Movement” in The Sisterhood section of the Forward got us both to thinking about our own relationships to these issues. (The Forward has been the leading Yiddish newspaper in the United States for well over 100 years, and didn’t even have an English-language edition until 1990, let alone a blog.)

Laurie grew up in a culturally Jewish atheist politically radical family. Debbie grew up with a religious Jewish mother and grandparents, and an atheist father, in a liberal community. Laurie’s passion for justice stems from the values and expectations of the people around her, most of whom were Jews; Debbie’s is somewhat more centered in the actual religious practice and expectations. Both of us were drawn early to the Jewish understanding that you work to make the world a better place not for any reward in this life or the next one, but because it’s right.

Leanne Gale invokes the Jewish obligation to behave justly:

On Yom Kippur, many congregations will read the Leviticus passage that commands, lo ta’amod al dam re’echa, do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. The blood of my history cries out to me; am I to remain silent?

She focuses, in her short article, on the reproductive justice framework:

Developed by women of color in the mid 1990s, the reproductive justice framework expands beyond the “right to choose” and insists on combating the racial, economic, and cultural systems of oppression that intersect to limit reproductive freedom. It is rooted in basic human rights, including the right to full autonomy over our bodies, the right to have or not have children, the right to birth and parent our children with dignity, and the right to live and raise a family in a safe, healthy environment.

She acknowledges, as we both do, our own privilege in this context. What she chooses not to discuss is the ways in which the Jewish passion for justice has in many contexts failed the religion’s own women. (Other failures of the Jewish passion for justice are well known and well reported, and not the subject of this particular blog post.) While all branches of Judaism believe that abortion should be performed if the life of the mother is at stake, Orthodox Judaism stops there, and conservative Judaism while somewhat more lenient, does not acknowledge a woman’s right to choose. Reform Judaism supports women’s choice. And, of course, the more traditional Orthodox and Conservative congregations have many sexist practices. Orthodoz Judaism is well known for making women and men worship in separate spaces, and treating menstruating women as unclean.

Nonetheless, the religion has never made a distinction between men’s and women’s obligations to improve the world. We both find it extremely satisfying to see Gale discussing reproductive justice and structural racism in The Forward; may her article open some eyes and change some minds.