Reproductive Rights Viewed From The Hilltop

The pro-choice movement can be a little insular; we are in a valley whose boundaries are defined by Roe v Wade on the one side, and the ever-shrinking practical access to abortion on the other. Cherry at Tortillas Duras has written a terrific post that attempts to look at reproductive rights from the hilltop, where a broader view is possible. What reproductive rights issues are those of us in the valley missing?

Here’s a sample of Cherry’s post. I don’t agree with everything Cherry says (for instance, would ending transnational adoption actually help “individuals who are not able to parent their children due to conditions created through imperialism,” and how do the needs of those individuals balance against the needs of people who are discriminated against by domestic adoption agencies?), but all of it is interesting; I’d really recommend reading the whole thing.

As part of the process of undergoing a legal change of sex, many states mandate that people undergo surgical procedures through which they are sterilized as a precondition to a legal change of sex Oftentimes people aren’t notified of any options for banking eggs and sperm for future use. This is another example of coercive sterilization and a way in which reproductive choice is unfairly limited to a group of individuals.

Yet what’s left out of this dialogue is the experience of trans people who choose not to, or don’t have the economic resources to undergo gender reassignment therapies. The positioning of this as a central issue of reproductive justice does not account for the many issues of day to day survival facing trans people with less resources, and the ways in which having less resources, especially when coupled with transphobia, affect overall health and well being. Some of the challenges facing trans people with less resources that affect health might be things like access to basic, fundamental needs such as food and shelter, as well as employment and housing discrimination, violence, and barriers to accessing healthcare. Because reproductive justice is really about survival, all of these matters deserve our attention, advocacy, and allyship as a matter of justice.

Many of these issues and systems around reproduction and parenting for queer and gender variant people further enforce who gets to be a parent both within and outside of the queer community by privileging one type of family over another. This is the case with transracial and transcultural adoption. Transracial adoption determines what sort of people have the ability and resources to parent without acknowledging the imperialist, racist and classist dynamics of white, first world people adopting children of color from third world countries. We need to consider not just the sovereignty of nations when thinking about working against imperialism, but of individuals who are not able to parent their children due to conditions created through imperialism, as well as the effects of globalization and the many violations of human rights that occur as a result of these things.

Similarly, when we think of fostering children involved with the child welfare system, we often don’t think of the conditions which compromise survival for the split families. We don’t often consider the ways in which certain families and communities are targeted and policed more than others, such as single mothers, low-income families, differently abled parents, families of color, and queer, trans and gender non-conforming parents of color or with lower incomes. We need to recognize this as an extension of the targeting, criminalization, and state intrusion these individuals and communities already unduly receive. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 stipulates that a parent loses parental rights to a child who has been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months. This has a specific impact on incarcerated women.

78% of incarcerated women have children, and two-thirds of incarcerated women are women of color. Due to the remote locations of many women’s prisons fewer than half of these women are able to see their children and families while incarcerated. Incarcerated women are at a high risk of losing their children as many of the children are placed in foster care for the duration of their incarceration. Further compromising survival for some people who have been incarcerated is legislation specifying that anyone who has been convicted of a drug-related felony is barred from receiving cash or food stamps and living in public housing.

The implications of all of these facts are many: that the legislation around retaining parental rights disproportionately affects women of color, that when facing incarceration women of color also face being dislocated from their communities and isolated from their resources and support networks, making it more difficult to ensure survival. And finally, that the legislation around drug felony convictions and access to benefits also compromises survival and one’s ability to provide for their families.


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3 Responses to Reproductive Rights Viewed From The Hilltop

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    Barbara says:

    I read the whole thing. I am not sure what she is advocating. I think it’s a legitimate complaint that many policies are adopted or advocated for without sufficient consideration of their impact on families, or more properly, the ability of people to care for their families, and the more likely it is that the impact will be felt by poor people or people of color, the less likely such consideration will take place. So if you take as an example the recent Missouri bill stripping funding for contraception at public clinics, the focus of the legislators is on the sex lives of women, and they don’t seem to have considered that many of the affected women already have children — and how those children will be affected by their mother’s limited access to contraception.

    Or if you take as an example the incidence of registries for unwed fathers, another timely topic, you see that their primary purpose is really to streamline the biological mother’s right to place her baby for adoption with a two parent couple (usually). The prior law in Florida, for instance, was also for the benefit of adoptive couples but it was so punitive that it discouraged women from placing babies for adoption in Florida. So those advocating on behalf of adoptive couples had no problem getting the ear of the legislature and the law was reformed pronto.

    The problem is, that when you start advocating on behalf of (say) incarcerated women, you don’t get a lot of sympathy — “it’s her own damn fault that she’s in jail, and it’s her responsibility, not ours, that her children are hurting and need to be put up for adoption.” Perhaps the best, the only thing, that can be done is to try mightily to make the case from the child’s perspective.

    And as for poor queers not having access to reproductive technologies, all I can say is, join the queue. Poor straights don’t have access either. At some level it’s all about poverty and positive versus negative rights, even though, as has been pointed out before, one reason why this divide exists is because dark people are on one side and light people on the other. It sometimes feels like an endless circle.

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    Brandon says:

    And as for poor queers not having access to reproductive technologies, all I can say is, join the queue. Poor straights don’t have access either.

    True, but if a poor straight person were to go into the hospital and get diagnosed with, say, ovarian cancer (I needed an example) that affected thier reproductive system and the ovaries had to be removed, I’m betting the doctor would list alternative ways and possibly a list of alternative resources/organizations that could help him/her start a family of thier own if they should so choose. Whereas if your transgender or transexual, (in the usa, I’m unsure about other countries) forget about it, because in order to (legally) claim the sex you feel yourself to be you have to be sterilized before they change the marker on your identification as part of the srs procedure. Keeping children a ts parent has already had is a bit of a problem, too, by looking at the amount of states in the usa that consider it from a personal or religious opinion to be a deviant behavior. I could be wrong, but I don’t think straight nongender-variant people have that problem.