Friday, September 19, 2008

Focusing on abortion (by Suzie)

          In all the talk about saving Roe vs. Wade, I’ve been thinking of how many times feminists, especially white ones, have been criticized for focusing too much on abortion.
          Flora Davis wrote: 
“… like other women of color, African-American women objected to white feminists’ single-minded focus on abortion.”
          Here's Maud Blair, Janet Holland and Sue Sheldon:
… the pro-abortion stance of the 1970s did not take into account the fact that many black women’s reproductive struggles were around the right to retain their fertility. For black women abortions, sterilizations and Depo-Provera were all-too-easily available, and were often administered without adequate consultation and/or under the shadow of economic repression. These are not experiences restricted to black women, but it was the intervention of black women which exposed the in fact narrow base of what seemed to be a universal demand, and transformed the campaign – which has subsequently focused on choice and reproductive rights.
         Pam Chamberlain and Jean Hardisty: 
The right has been extremely successful in keeping the primarily white and middle-class women of the pro-choice movement and their male allies pre-occupied with responding to the escalating strategies of the pro-life movement… Because the right, with the acquiescence of the voting public, has successfully shredded the social safety net, it is increasingly unlikely that women of color and poor women will be guaranteed the means to bear and raise children. Without that means - in other words, without control of their reproductive lives - even the preservation of legal abortion does not guarantee all women's reproductive rights and reproductive freedom.
          If these narratives are correct, middle-class white women have been selfish, perhaps even racist, to work so hard to keep abortion legal. But this oversimplifies women’s history. In eugenics, people could be condemned for other factors than race. As Victoria Nourse notes, many of the women who were sterilized because they were imprisoned, disabled, poor or otherwise deemed unfit were white. Here’s a brief history of sterilization.
            While many women were sterilized without consent, many others (white and not white) could not obtain sterilization, contraception or abortion easily or safely. Tonyaa Weathersbee wrote:
Because as bad as the bad old days were for white women … they were even worse for us.
           When abortion was illegal, botched abortions were a primary killer of black women. According to research by Loretta J. Ross, former program director for the National Black Women’s Health Project, between 1965 and 1967 the death rate of black women in Georgia from illegal abortion was 14 times higher than that of white women. Another study estimated that in the 1960s, black and Puerto Rican women made up 80 percent of the deaths from illegal abortions in New York.
          People of color have long been involved in the fight to protect women’s rights not to have children. This spring, I attended a Planned Parenthood luncheon honoring Dr. Kenneth Edelin, a black doctor who was convicted of manslaughter after performing a legal abortion soon after Roe. Sadly, the luncheon audience was almost all white.
         Lauren Bayne Anderson wrote about how abortion is framed as a white issue, even though “a Women of Color Reproductive Health Poll showed that 83 percent of African American women identify as pro-choice.” Of the women getting abortions, 37 percent are black, 34 percent are non-Hispanic whites and 22 percent are Hispanic.
          Have feminists focused too much on abortion and not enough on other issues? Sometimes I’ve thought so, but then again, who knows what would have happened if we hadn’t.
           In regard to reproductive freedom: It’s hard to imagine what that would look like, considering everything that influences our decisions. Nor do I know how many women choose not to have children because of a lack of social services. But I'm confident that many feminists will continue to support legal and accessible contraception and abortion, along with social services that assist families.